May 31, 2015

Plenary Indulgence for the Feast of Corpus Christi

Courtesy of uCatholicTantum Ergo is the last two stanzas from the Eucharistic Hymn (Pange Lingua) composed by St. Thomas Aquinas and is used at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The response and the prayer at the end is a later addition used at Benediction. A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who recite it and a plenary indulgence is granted to those who recite it on Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi. 


Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.

V. Panem de cælis præstitisti eis (on Corpus Christi, 'Alleluia' is added).
R. Omne delectamentum in se habentem (on Corpus Christi, 'Alleluia' is added).

Oremus: Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili, passionis tuæ memoriam reliquisti: tribue, quæsumus, ita nos corporis et sanguinis tui sacra mysteria venerari, ut redemptionis tuæ fructum in nobis iugiter sentiamus. Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.


Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless majesty.

V. You have given them bread from heaven, (Alleluia,)
R. Having all sweetness within it. (Alleluia.)

Let us pray. O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament left us a memorial of your Passion: grant, we implore you, that we may so venerate the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood, as always to be conscious of the fruit of your Redemption. You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen. (Roman Breviary)

May 30, 2015

Homily for Trinity Sunday, May 31, 2015, Year B

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, Raphael, 1509-1510

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

(Click here for today’s readings)

Do you like jigsaw puzzles? Do friends and family give you “the world’s most difficult” puzzles? has one called “Dalmatians,” with dozens of virtually identical black-and-white dogs filling the entire picture. It’s also two-sided, by the way.

Now imagine a futuristic puzzle in which the pieces keep changing shape, and the picture on the box is never the same twice. And let’s make the pieces slippery while we’re at it.

We might think the Trinity is like that. If our goal is to understand how one God can exist in three “persons,” when even the word “person” in this context is not at all what we usually think of when we say it, we are doomed to failure. We will never get the pieces to fit.

Yet here we are, as always on the Sunday after Pentecost, celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. It’s so different from, say, Christmas, which has many layers of personal meaning for us. Honestly, do you ever look forward with excitement to Trinity Sunday? I know only one person who does, and that is because relating to the Trinity is at the very heart of his personal spirituality.

This is not to say people don’t believe in the Trinity. Catholics make the Sign of the Cross in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, without entertaining any particular doubts about what they are saying.

From that point of view, this feast is actually an excellent illustration of a theological principle that says, “As we pray, so we believe.” For example, in the Hail Mary, we call the Blessed Virgin “Mother of God.” This would not be the case if the Church did not actually believe this of her. In fact, that Marian title was confirmed by a Council after it had already entered into the prayer of the Church.

We pray, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” Here, too, the Trinity is almost taken for granted. That’s not a bad thing. It means that the Trinity is always there, sometimes in the background of our faith, but at least once a year in the foreground, on this feast.

Something else is more or less taken for granted in that short prayer, namely that we can give glory to God! How can the puny creatures we call I and we, and you and he and she and they, even wish glory to the Trinity, much less give it? And yet we sing a long praise of the Trinity in the Gloria at Mass, and a brief acclamation of glory again just before the Our Father.

Who are we to think our praise can matter? In the fourth “Common Preface” (recited by the celebrant before the Holy, Holy, Holy), God is addressed in these words: “You have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation.”

We were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That’s when we received the right and duty to give glory to God. It is part of the “priestly” role of all the baptized.

In revealing to us his inner life as one God in three Persons, God has given us not a puzzle to be put together, but another opportunity for giving glory and praise and thanks.

Think of that the next time you make the Sign of the Cross.

May 26, 2015

Announcing the New Evangelization Award for Excellence in Catholic Blogging 2015

I am pleased to announce the 1st annual New Evangelization Award for excellence in Catholic blogging. The Catholic blogosphere hosts thousands of sites. Choosing among them blogs of distinction is a daunting task. I had originally intended to honor three Catholic bloggers who have made a unique and longstanding contribution to evangelize and engage a society that is increasingly hostile and openly skeptical toward Judeo-Christian principles and the "culture of life." I expanded that number to seven in deference to the prevalence of quality Catholic websites in existence. (There are numerous bloggers worthy of recognition. For a list of honorable mentions please see my blogroll.) In order to qualify, a blog must:
  • have been in existence for at least 3 years
  • publish original content that is faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church
  • evangelize and inform Catholics, converts, reverts, and all who seek the fullness of truth 
The 2015 recipients of the New Evangelization Award for Catholic blogging are:

Catholic Fire by Jean Heimann

Domine, da mihi hanc aquam! By Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Big Blue Wave by Suzanne F.

The Curt Jester by Jeff Miller

The Deacon’s Bench by Deacon Greg Kandra

May 23, 2015

A Memorial Day Prayer

Heavenly Father,
On this Memorial Day, we pray for those 
who courageously laid down their lives 
for the cause of freedom.  
May the examples of their sacrifice 
inspire in us the selfless love of Your Son, 
our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bless the families of our fallen troops. 
Fill their homes and their lives 
with Your strength and peace.

In union with people of goodwill of every nation, 
embolden us to answer the call 
to work for peace and justice, 
and thus, seek an end 
to violence and conflict around the globe.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015, Year B

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

The descent of the Holy Spirit.
(Click here for today's readings)

There is a famous story about the prophet Elijah in chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings. He has made powerful enemies and is hiding in a cave. The Lord tells Elijah to stand outside and wait for the Lord to pass. There is a strong violent wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord is not in any of these. Then comes a “light silent sound,” which is the New American Bible equivalent of the better known “still small voice” of the King James version.

Sometimes, especially at a retreat, for example, there is a tendency to take this story to mean that God always comes quietly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at what happened at Pentecost. There was “a noise like a strong driving wind,” and “there appeared to them tongues of fire... and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” What about the earthquake? In chapter 4 of Acts we read this, “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, the Lord can manifest himself in any way he pleases. In John 3:8, Jesus says to Nicodemus: “The wind 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 it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Would it surprise you to learn that in this verse the same Greek word is translated as “wind” at the beginning of that verse and “Spirit” at the end?

It is this unpredictable Spirit in whom, as we recite the Creed, we profess faith as “the Lord, the giver of life.”

In ordinary usage, the first, most obvious meaning of “giver of life” would refer to parents, whose loving union gives life to a new human being. But that is only the beginning of their giving of life. If all goes well, they will continue to give life, under a variety of forms, for many years. Nor is it only the parents. There are grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others, all of whom “give life.”

“Giving life” is clearly much broader than “bringing into being.” We can engage in many “life-giving” activities with respect to persons who are already alive, because we understand life to mean more than simply being alive.

Blood donors and organ donors are givers of life. So are those who dedicate their lives to the service of others, or those whom we honor on Memorial Day who gave their lives to and for their country.

The prayer of St. Francis describes many other such activities that any of us is capable of—bringing hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, pardon after injury, faith in a time of doubt, and so on. Francis identifies these with being “instruments of peace,” and peace is one of the nine “fruits of the Spirit” listed in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Even those who provide hospice care to the dying bring life through the respect and dignity with which they endow the situation. Think of Mother Teresa, finding persons who were left in the gutter to die and bringing them into a place where they would be surrounded by love in their final moments.

The first sign of life in a newborn child is “inspiration,” i.e., when it draws its first breath. The first sign of death is the final “expiration,” i.e. when you exhale your last breath.

Would it surprise you to learn that the Latin word “spiritus,” from which these words come, means breath, and that “Holy Spirit” could be translated as “Holy Breath?” What do we see in the Gospel? Jesus “breathed” on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What do we see in the creation of Adam: “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

It’s all about giving and what is given. The Spirit is the “giver of life.” The Spirit inspired Mother Teresa. The same Spirit inspired St. Francis. The same Spirit is alive and well and active in the Church today and giving life in whatever form it is needed.

Giving, of course, implies receiving, accepting, putting the gifts to good use. That’s where you and I fit in.

May 21, 2015

Saint John Paul II in His Own Words - A Collection of His Quotes

The following quotes from our late Holy Father, St. John Paul the Great, reflect the breadth of his knowledge, the nature of Divine Love and the incomparable dignity of human persons who are made in the image and likeness of God, "chosen from eternity and called by name."
The human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name.
There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
Darkness can only be scattered by light, hatred can only be conquered by love.
Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family - a domestic church.
Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.
To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.
The cemetery of the victims of human cruelty in our century is extended to include yet another vast cemetery, that of the unborn.
As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.
Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.
An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded.
The future starts today, not tomorrow. 
In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.  
Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it. 
Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. 
Faith and Reason are like two wings of the human spirit by which it soars to the truth.
I plead with you--never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.  
True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace. 
The worst prison would be a closed heart. 
Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace, to live peace...Peace will be the last word of history. 
A person's rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use. 
Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence. 
Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial. 
Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love
St. John Paul II, Pray for us!

May 19, 2015

Pentecost Reflection - Order Out of Confusion

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.

Remember learning about mixed metaphors, where two or more incompatible images are used to describe one thing? Years ago I saw a cartoon from the New Yorker magazine, where an executive speaking to his staff says, “Gentlemen, I smell a rat. I can feel it in the air. And I will nip it in the bud!”

We seem to have a similar confusion about the Holy Spirit, presented in the New Testament as a dove, wind, fire, and called “Paraclete,” which in turn is translated sometimes as Comforter and sometimes as Advocate. The hymn “Veni Sancte Spiritus” calls on the Spirit to “melt the frozen, warm the chill,” just after describing the Spirit as “Grateful coolness in the heat.”

But all this isn’t so strange as it might at first appear. The key lies in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wills… but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (See 1 Corinthians 12Galatians 5:22-23 for just a few examples.) The Spirit is “spontaneous,” unpredictable, bestowing extraordinary gifts, often on unsuspecting, unlikely persons, precisely to meet a particular need in the Church or the world.

It’s no wonder that Pentecost is such an exciting feast!

May 17, 2015

In Honor of the 95th Anniversary of Saint John Paul the Great's Birth - A Retrospective

Saint Pope John Paul the Great
Karol Józef Wojtyła was born 95 years ago, on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, the youngest of three children, to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Wojtyla, (née Kaczorowska). The future pope's father was a non-commissioned officer of the Imperial Royal Army and a Polish Army captain. His mother had a premonition about her youngest child saying, "Karol is destined to be a great man." 

Young Wojtyla, c 1929 
Date of birth: May 18, 1920

Date of death: April 2, 2005

Birth place: Wadowice, Poland

Education: Doctorate in Philosophy, Doctorate in Sacred Theology, Jagiellonian University

Feast Day: October 22 (date of papal inauguration)

Apostolic Motto: Totus Tuus (Totally yours)

Notes of Interest:

Upon his election in 1978, John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. At 58, he was the youngest pope since the election of Pope Pius IX (age 54), in 1846. During his pontificate, he visited 129 countries, travelling over 680,000 miles. He beatified 1,340 individuals and canonized 483 saints. While Bishop of Rome, he survived two attempts on his life. John Paul II is the third longest serving pontiff in history, behind St. Peter (32 years) and Pope Pius IX (31 years 7 months). He authored 14 encyclicals, 7 plays, 3 compilations of poetry and 16 books. He learned as many as twelve languages and spoke nine fluently as Pope: Polish, Latin, Ancient Greek, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish and Portuguese.

First pope to visit the White House.
 As a university student,
c 1938-39

First modern pope to visit a synagogue.

First pope to visit Cuba.

Most widely traveled pope. (It has been suggested that John Paul II was seen in person by more people than any other figure in history.) 

Canonized more saints than any other pontiff.

Created 232 cardinals.

Re-established diplomatic relations with Great Britain 

Re-established diplomatic relations with the United States


May 18, 1920 - Karol Jozef Wojtyla is born in Wadowice, Poland, at 7 Koscielna Street. Nicknamed Lolek, he is the third and last child of Karol and Emilia. His brother Edmund was born in 1906 and a sister, Olga, died in infancy in 1914.

1938 - Karol graduates from high school. His family moves to Krakow. Karol attends Jagiellonian University until World War II begins in September 1939.

1941 - Wojtyla helps form an underground theater, called the Rhapsodic Theater. It presented works in Polish in defiance of the Nazis. During the day, Wojtyla labors in quarries and chemical factories.

1942 - Wojtyla studies at underground seminary run by Archbishop Sapieha.

Father Wojtyla, c 1947
1946 - Wojtyla is ordained a priest by Cardinal Sapieha.

1946-1948 - Wojtyla studies in Rome, earning a doctorate in philosophy. Later, he earns a doctorate in Sacred Theology from Jagellonian University.

1958 - Wojtyla is consecrated a bishop.

1962-1965 - Wojtyla participates in Vatican II. 

March 8, 1964 - Wojtyla is ordained Archbishop of Krakow.

June 26, 1967 - In a secret consistory, Wojtyla is elevated to cardinal. 
John Paul II upon his
election as pontiff.

October 16, 1978 - Cardinal Karol Wojtyla is elected the 264th pope.

October 2, 1979 - Addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations.

May 13, 1981 - Pope John Paul II is shot by Mehmet Ali Agca in Saint Peter's Square. He is seriously wounded in the abdomen, arm and hand. 

January 27, 1983 - He meets with Ali Agca at Rebibbia Prison.

December 26, 1994 - Time Magazine names him Man of the Year.

April 2, 2005 - Dies at 9:37 p.m. in his apartment in the Vatican.

April 8, 2005 - His funeral takes place in Saint Peter's Square. He is buried in a crypt under Saint Peter's Basilica.

May 2005 - Pope Benedict XVI waives the five year wait period for canonization.

May 1, 2011 - Is beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. 

April 27, 2014 - Is canonized a saint.

Pope John Paul II on Love - Chicago 1979:

Habemus Papam! Pope John Paul II presented to the world upon his election as Supreme Pontiff:

Prayer for the Intercession of Saint John Paul II 

O Blessed Trinity,
we thank You for having graced the Church
with Saint John Paul II and for allowing
the tenderness of Your Fatherly care,
the glory of the cross of Christ,
and the splendor of the Holy Spirit,
to Shine through him.

Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary,
he has given us a living image of Jesus
the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that
holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary
Christian life and is the way of achieving
eternal communion with You.

Grant us, by his intercession,
and according to Your will,
the graces we implore...
We ask this through Jesus Christ Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
and the Holy Spirit, one God, 
forever and ever. Amen.

May 15, 2015

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015, Year B

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

Matthias is chosen. 

NOTE: In New Hampshire, this is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. For the Solemnity of the Ascension, celebrated this day in many other dioceses, see Matthew Coffin’s excellent reflection "Why Satan Hates the Ascension of Christ".)

And Matthias was never heard from again.

Well, as far as that goes, he was never heard from before, either. This story of his “election” as an Apostle is the only time he is mentioned by name in the whole New Testament. We know, from the criterion established by Peter, that both he and Barsabbas were among the first disciples of Jesus. Replacing Judas was apparently a big deal for the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist St. Luke. Everything inclines the reader to expect great things of Matthias.

And then, nothing. What happened? Did he fail? Did Peter and the assembled community make a mistake? Did Luke just get distracted, or lose interest in him? There are, of course, various traditions about where he ministered—Jerusalem, or the modern-day country of Georgia, or Ethiopia—and about how he died, either by being stoned to death and beheaded, or dying of old age in his bed.

Who knows? More importantly, who cares?

We could ask similar questions about the other readings. Who were the “Beloved” to whom St. John was writing? Where did they live?

Who exactly was Jesus praying for in today’s Gospel, just those present with him at the time, or for all his disciples, or for all the disciples there would ever be, including us?

All those questions we happily leave to the scholars. Let them debate to their heart’s content. Ultimately these things, interesting though they may be, are non-essential.

The really important thing about Matthias is the fact that God chose him, which is not the same as saying he was better than Barsabbas. Barsabbas was not chosen, which is not the same as saying he was rejected. The assembled disciples recognized clearly that God’s will is supreme, and so they prayed and left the final choice to God.

That was a bold and brave approach. But it also demonstrated a depth of faith that has not often been equaled in decision making. It might work if we could be genuinely indifferent about the final choice. If you really just couldn’t make up your mind between two or more careers, maybe you could ask God to decide, and then roll the dice. How many people do you know who might actually do that? (“Odds, I’ll go through door A; evens, door B; doubles, door C.”)

John was no less brave or bold or faith-filled, however, when he wrote, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

We, too, can be brave and bold and faith-filled. That’s what Jesus prayed to his Father for. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” (Do you hear the echo here of the Lord’s prayer?) “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world... I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”

The common thread is obvious. What matters is that Christians witness to Christ. As Matthias was chosen to “become a witness” to the resurrection of Jesus, so too with us. It has never been and never will be easy, but Jesus promised us his help and protection. 

Jesus prayed also, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” If only we Christians could truly be one, and could truly love one another, always and everywhere; if only we could truly all “remain in love,” our witness to the Lord could be even more convincing. It’s all about Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, seated at the right hand of the Father, who will come again in glory.

Matthias was never heard from again. No matter. It was never about him (or us) in the first place.

May 12, 2015

May's Catholic Blog of Note: Catholic Crossing

The World Wide Web boasts thousands of Catholic sites. “Blogs of Note,” is a new monthly series featuring blogs and blog authors who are faithful to the Magisterium and worthy of your time. I am pleased to highlight a new addition to the Catholic blogosphere. Catholic Crossing is an online clearinghouse of information, bringing you the best in Catholic Media. If you are looking for faithful, thoughtful articles of interest to orthodox Catholics, with a focus on theology, the complementarity of faith and reason, and other issues relevant to the life of the Church – Catholic Crossing is required reading. 

To view Catholic Crossing's twitter feed go here.

May 9, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

The Virgin of the LiliesBouguereau, 1899

Today is Mother's Day. This post is dedicated to my Mother and to mothers everywhere. Icons represent and make present spiritual realities beyond us. Motherhood is a special icon of God's love. I was home-schooled by my Mom, who taught, nurtured and inspired us. Her maternal presence and selfless love has sustained our family. To this day she makes sure my Father (and a ridiculously pampered cat), looks presentable and is cared for. She is a woman after Mary's own heart. Because of her, it is easy to believe in an all good, all loving God.

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers.

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015, Year B

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

"Love one another." (John 15:17)
Image from Duccio‘s Maestà alterpiece, 1308-11
(Click here for today’s readings)

Many years ago when I was in college, I remember being involved in a pseudo-intellectual debate on whether charity was an obligation. On one side the argument was that charity, by definition, implies something done freely, from the heart. On the other side the claim was that being a Christian, by definition, implies a way of life that must include charity.

The last words of today’s Gospel could lend themselves to a similar discussion. “This I command you: love one another.”

On the one hand love, as we understand it, like Shakespeare’s “quality of mercy,” cannot be “strained,” i.e., constrained, forced. Imagine trying to bully someone into loving you! Part of the mystery of love is precisely that we are not able to make it happen. And when it does take hold of us we can scarcely explain it.

That said, we are confronted over and over in the New Testament by the duty of love. Count how many times “love” occurs in today’s readings alone.

St. Peter faced a similar dilemma, in reverse. The Holy Spirit told him to do something he was not allowed to do. The reading about Cornelius takes up all of Chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles, but the version presented in the Lectionary is severely truncated, giving only nine out of forty-eight verses. Cornelius was apparently a good man, “devout and God-fearing,” but as a Roman soldier he was the enemy, and as a pagan he was to be shunned. And yet, the Spirit told Peter to go to Caesarea, a Roman city filled with idols, and actually enter the man’s house! This was unthinkable for a “practicing” Jew, Christian or not. In fact, in the next chapter, Peter will have to defend himself from the charge: “You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.”

Before going to meet Cornelius, Peter had a vision in which he was told to eat forbidden foods, and when he refused in disgust, the voice told him, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”

Here, I think, we find a clue to the “duty” of love. It isn’t about how we feel. It’s about how we behave. And behavior can be commanded. That is the point, for example, of the words of Jesus at the end of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “Go and do likewise.” Concretely, the command is to treat everyone in a loving way.

I think I may safely assume that we all know how difficult that can be, even with people we really do love. And when it comes to people we don’t like at all, we are commanded to set aside our dislikes, resentments, prejudices—what? as if those things don’t matter? Correct.

Jesus makes keeping his commandments a condition for remaining in his love. He applies the same rule to himself in relation to the Father. St. John, in his First Letter, places the commandment ultimately not on the lips of Jesus or of the Father, but in God’s very being: “God is love.” That is why John can write, shortly before, that “Love is of God,” and make the stark, bold claim: “Whoever is without love does not know God.”

So maybe the command to love is not so much about behavior, after all, but about what underlies our behavior as disciples of Jesus Christ. “Remain in my love,” he says.

As we approach the end of the Easter Season, here is an appropriate quotation from St. Augustine. “Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, “Praise the Lord!” and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord... But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.”

In other words, do what you are and be what you do. There should be no difference. A nineteenth century poet, a Jesuit priest named Gerard Manley Hopkins, claimed that everything in the universe cries out: “What I do is me: for that I came.” How perfectly that applies to Jesus! And if we remain in his love, we are Christians, called to do what we are and be what we do.

With all the references to love in the readings, one could hardly forget that today is Mother’s Day. What does a mother do? She does what she is: she mothers.

God is love. He is what he does, he does what he is.

May 1, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2015, Year B

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

Apse mosaic, Basilica of San Clemente,
Rome, c 1200
(Click here for today’s readings)

A couple of weeks ago we used the image of witnesses and concluded that we need to become “expert,” i.e. experienced, witnesses whose credibility is based on a genuine relationship with the Risen Lord.

In today’s first reading we have Saul, recently returned to Jerusalem from his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, ready and eager to get out there and witness, to “speak out boldly.” And he does so, after finally gaining the trust of the other Jerusalem Christians. Then the former persecutor becomes the one persecuted, and the Christians spirit him away to his home town of Tarsus.

What is wrong with this picture? Isn’t the witness supposed to stay and die for the faith? Running away doesn’t seem to fit.

Actually it does. It’s called “witness protection.” Even before this, Saul had to escape from Damascus by being let down in a basket through a window in the city walls!

This shouldn’t have to be, of course. We see the ideal situation described at the very end of the same first reading: “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” But that lasted only for a while. When persecutions came, most Christians fled, bringing the Gospel with them and witnessing in other places.

In more recent times, this happened with many religious orders. In the late 1800’s, for example, both Prussia and France enacted laws making it impossible for religious to carry on their work. Many religious left their homeland in voluntary exile, and soon found their religious orders growing by leaps and bounds in other countries.

Ultimately what matters most is being united with the Lord, or as the Gospel of John puts it several times, “remaining” in him, being joined to him as intimately as branches are joined to the vine. A nice comforting image, offering the “reassurance” and “confidence” mentioned in the second reading. But then comes the pruning.

Because it involves cutting away, we naturally interpret pruning in terms of loss, a taking away of something, whether viewed as superficial or considered essential to our well-being. Hopes dashed. Dreams shattered. Health lost. Broken relationships. All this might make us think again of the challenges and dangers involved in witnessing to Christ. Thus Saul’s being sent to Tarsus could be a kind of pruning away of whatever early ambition he might have had, allowing him time to mature in his faith and produce the abundant fruit we find in his many Letters.

A branch on an actual grapevine says nothing when it is pruned. But when we, as branches on the vine of Christ, are pruned, we say, “Ouch!” We might disagree with the vine grower, questioning his expertise. In the long run, however, is in the branch’s best interest to bear all the fruit it can.

In the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome there is a fascinating mosaic of a vine growing from the base of the Cross of the crucified Christ. There are fifty branches, each bearing fruit; the fruit is not the same in every case, but is richly varied. This reminds us that each of us is called to produce fruit in a unique manner, according to our own skills and interests. But remember that, as in Saul’s case, and in the case of all the faithful witnesses over the ages, the fruit isn’t meant for us alone; it is for the Church, the community of believers, and might even spill over to the rest of the world.