Archive for May, 2020

“Feeling” The Holy Spirit

Sunday, May 31st, 2020


Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Cor 12: 3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20: 19-23

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today is all about the Holy Spirit.  We hear two different accounts of how the gift of the Holy Spirit was bestowed by God on his people.   

First, Jesus bestows the gift of the Spirit on his Apostles in the Gospel story late on Easter Sunday.   He breathes on them and then tells them that he is sending the Holy Spirit on them.

This is reminiscent of the creation of Adam and Even in Genesis, when God breathed on them and gave them life.

You know, we can explain all the physiological events that occur when someone takes a breath.  We take a breath by an internal impulse, the heart pumps, blood flows through our lungs, and the lungs renew our blood.     

But the fact remains, that the projection of our spirit’s presence is symbolized by the fact that we are dynamic, breathing beings.  Nobody can explain in physiological terms that projection which is unique to each one of us- the way a person smiles, the look in their eyes, the uniqueness of the way they move, their likes and dislikes, their temperament, and so many other things that are unique to each person.  People say that’s all imbedded in our genes.    But what is the mechanism by which those genes project the whole spirit of the person.   

And so, we sense something else other than just the physical presence in ourselves; we sense a spiritual presence.  First century Israel was not aware of so many of the scientific advances that are second nature to us today.  Fortunately, it was easier for them to understand and accept the symbolism that breathing represented the Spirit.   

And so, Jesus is infusing into the existing spiritual presences that accompanied the bodies of the Apostles something else-  an additional spiritual presence; the presence of the Spirit of God.   

Now last week, we talked some about the Holy Spirit.  We talked about the fact that the Spirit would give us power that would strengthen us and help sustain our Faith by giving us the gifts of the Spirit.   

In today’s Gospel, Jesus made it clear on that first Easter Sunday that he was giving the Apostles the Spirit of God to exercise a specific power-  the power to forgive sins or not forgive them.  This scripture is the basis for our Sacrament of Confession.   

It’s not that God can’t and won’t forgive us if we ask him directly.  But it is clear that the power of forgiveness was vested by Jesus in the Apostles by proxy, and by Apostolic succession to our current priests.  How comforting it is to know for certain that we are forgiven. 

But this was a specific gift, a specific power, just given to the Apostles. I doubt that they felt it in any way; they exercised it on Faith.   

In today’s second reading we hear about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in general.  Paul says that “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit”- for some benefit.  Then Paul uses an analogy to describe how the gifts of all of us weave together into God’s will.  He uses the human body for that analogy; how each member has an essential function.   

Now In the first reading, we hear about thousands of people who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.  First, the Disciples of Jesus are infused with the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire.  Each of them has been empowered in a unique way by the Holy Spirit.  One power is the gift of tongues, the ability of those Apostles to communicate with foreigners speaking different languages.  And working all together, Jesus’ disciples convert thousands of people on that first day through the power of the Holy Spirit.   

Now this sounds just great as we read it 2000 years later, but when most of us were confirmed, we didn’t see tongues of fire or people speaking in tongues to us.  So, did we feel the presence of the Spirit come on us?  Many of us had a spiritual high; a joyful expectation finally met.  But did anything really change in our lives instantly that we could really sense?  Did we feel stronger in our ability to deal with evil?  Did we get a special inspiration about what God wants us to do with our lives?   

Well, the Holy Spirit’s powers are spiritual, not physical powers.  They are not something we can touch or feel.  We have got to accept on Faith that these powers, these gifts, are there, and that they are there for our benefit.  We have received the power to access the will of God for us.  He now guarantees us his presence and attention when we appeal to him.  We are in his good “graces”; we have received “grace”.  We hold that grace as long as we are faithful to God and his commandments.   

In particular, he will help guide us to discover the gifts and powers that he wills for us if we ask him.  He does that by nudging us in the right direction as circumstances present themselves and by giving us the spiritual strength, fortitude if you will, to stick with it.   

Today, we see many people who found the Spirit’s gifts to them as we see how society is dealing with the Corona Virus.  People are serving their fellow man in extraordinary ways.  They have a strength they didn’t know they had; and although exhausted, they experience joys they didn’t know existed.  

Our access to the gifts of the Spirit is like that.  When we least expect it, we will be called, and our challenge is to hear that call.  It is then we will feel the strength of the Spirit working in us.   

The Holy Spirit Strengthens Our Faith

Sunday, May 24th, 2020


Acts 1: 1-11; Eph 1: 17-23; Mt 28: 16-20

Deacon Larry Brockman

Faith!  The Apostles are called after their 40 days of contact with the Risen Lord, to have Faith going forward.  And indeed, this is the universal message to all of us about belief in God, the Kingdom of God, and an after-life.  We have got to have Faith as we live life in this world.   

The gift that Jesus gave us to sustain us in our Faith is the hope inspired by the Holy Spirit.  For while we do not have Jesus physically present in our lives as the Apostles did, we know in our hearts that Jesus was here, suffered and died and was raised from the dead, and now, has ascended into heaven  because we believe in what we read in the Gospel.  The gift of the Spirit sustains and enriches that belief in us.  The Spirit inspires us with the Hope of the Kingdom.  Indeed, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen”.  And that is all of us.

Didn’t you find it odd the way the Gospel describes the Apostles this morning?  It says they worshipped him when they gathered on the mountain that last time, but…“they doubted”.  I find it absolutely incredible that “they doubted” after all they had experienced.  Jesus ate and drank and related to them after they had seen him suffer and die a horrible death on the cross.  He had been with them for 40 days.  And now, right before their eyes, after doubting, they saw him raised up into the heavens.  The two men, angels I suppose, say not once, but twice, that Jesus was taken up into heaven- another miracle in the long line of miracles these people had seen first-hand, even to those who doubted.  Why does the Gospel point out that these men doubted?   

Well, it is human nature for us to doubt the other worldly, the life beyond, something beyond what is right in front of us.  In fact, the passage of time dulls the memory that people have of real events.  There are those who don’t believe in the lunar landing.  There are those who don’t believe that the Holocaust happened in Germany during World War II, even though there is well documented evidence that these things happened, including photographs and personal testimonies. 

The message is that we cannot accept the truth by ourselves.  We need help; we need something beyond reality to inspire us to accept the truth and believe in it.   

Here we are, two thousand years after the events in today’s readings occurred, called to believe that this man, born of humble origins, said and did everything recorded in the Gospels.  That takes Faith, and it is a faith based on what we hear, not what we have seen.  We are prone to doubt it all when the humdrum of the real physical world comes into play.  Secretly, down inside of us, the devil is trying to instill doubt in our faith.  He whispers constantly that what you see is all there is.  Enjoy that while it lasts, preserve it at all costs, because that’s all there is.     

Jesus recognized that even the faith of those closest to him who had seen the events first-hand and walked with him for 40 days after the Resurrection was vulnerable- because they still doubted.  So, Jesus promises to send them something after he is gone.  He promises them the Holy Spirit.   He tells them the Holy Spirit will give them power, and that they will be his witnesses to the end of the Earth.   

So, this group of doubters will be given a gift that will transcend doubt.  It will give them inspiration, and fill them with a strong sense of belief in all that they had seen and heard,  So that they would hold the hope of being reunited with Jesus in the Kingdom of God, Heaven,   In their hearts with steadfast faith.   

And indeed, that’s just what the Holy Spirit did for these men as we will see next week during the birth of the Church, the Feast of Pentecost.   

All of us need the gift of the Spirit as well.  We need to accept on Faith the things we have not seen and heard first hand. and to believe that the promises Jesus made to us through the witnessing by the descendants of the Apostles are still true. 

Yes, all of us who believe will be united with Jesus our Savior in the Kingdom of Heaven some day.  But we need the help of the Holy Spirit to transcend the work of the devil and the influences of the secular world.  Even his first hand witnesses doubted, and needed this gift to maintain their Faith. 

The First Confirmation

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; 1 Pet 3: 15-18; Jn 14: 15-21

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today we hear all about the Sacrament of Confirmation.   

First, we hear a clear description of the Sacrament in Acts.  For while Philip Baptized the Samaritans; it was clear that Peter and John recognized the need for their “Confirmation”.  Confirmation is the Sacrament in which we receive the Holy Spirit; and it is normally administered by the Bishop to large groups.   

Now at first blush, Confirmation may seem confusing because we are also taught that when we are Baptized, we are reborn in the Spirit.  So, if we receive the Spirit at Baptism, then why Confirmation?  The Church teaches that when we are Baptized, our sins are forgiven and we receive the Spirit of grace, of justice, and of Sanctification.  We become children of God and neophytes in the Church of God.   

But just as is implied in the reading from Acts; we need something more than that to navigate our way through the secular world.  Jesus says it best in the Gospel.  He says that we need another “Advocate”, and that after He leaves the world,,He will send that Advocate to those who keep his Commandments.    

Let me dwell on this part of the Gospel a bit.  We hear that the Advocate will give us the Spirit of Truth “which the World cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it.”  This is truth in the eyes of God.  How true that the world neither sees it nor knows it.  It includes knowledge and confidence that there is life beyond life in this world.  That is something that the secular world is very skeptical about.   

It includes a welcoming sense of acceptance of God’s law in the heart.  This was the subject of Jesus’ entire three-year ministry- to instill in the Apostles the truth about God’s law- a law of love for God, neighbor, and self; not just a sense of law which meant abiding by strict precepts handed down by tradition.  It is true, of course, that many of those laws were based on God’s revelation to Moses and the prophets.  But their true meaning had been morphed to a set of black and white laws.  Compliance with the law was based on physical compliance; not necessarily on compliance in the heart.   

And it includes a sense that the most important thing for us to do in our lives, is to comply with God’s will for us, whatever that it.  The Gospel is the story of the pattern for doing this.  It is the story of Jesus Christ’s mission on earth to live his life in accordance with god’s will.   

Clearly, the Spirit of truth then, if accepted by a person, would be a Spirit of strength.  That’s because when we accept the truth and are committed to it with our hearts; then we have the inner strength to bear with whatever the world throws at us. 

The gifts of the Holy Spirit accompany the Spirit of truth.  They are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge , Piety, and Fear of God.  It is easy to see inner strength in a person who has these gifts in their Faith.   

Now the word Advocate here is based on the original Greek word in the book of Acts, which is Paraclete.  It is only used 4 times in the Scriptures.  But the sense of the Greek word is “one called in as helper, pleader, defender, patron, advocate”.   

Putting this all together then, Jesus is telling his Apostles that he will send them the Spirit of Truth, God’s truth.  This Spirit of Truth would instill in them the strength that they needed to deal with the secular world and that this Spirit would be their advocate when they stood before God for judgment.  All of this equally applies to us as it did to the Apostles.   

Our second reading shows us what it is like to be a Confirmed Christian.  Peter describes a person who is always ready to be a witness for Christ.  That means they have the wisdom and knowledge of their faith that they need to defend it or explain it to others. and it means that they have the patience and the forbearance to do it in a way that is “gentle and with reverence”.  It also means that they have the fortitude to defend their faith in word and deed despite the possibility of ridicule.   

Yes, today’s readings are all about Confirmation; and what it means to be a Confirmed Christian.   

My Father’s House

Sunday, May 10th, 2020

5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 6: 1-7; 1 Pet 2: 4-9; Jn 14: 1-12

Deacon Larry Brockman

So, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  Such are Jesus’ words to Thomas this morning.   

And I think that is very comforting to know.  Because it implies diversity in Heaven; it implies that these dwelling places are somehow different, yet each is just as desirable as the next.  Jesus basically tells us that each dwelling place is tailored for the individual; and that if we follow his teaching in this life, then He will come and get us and lead us to our particular place.  How wonderful is that!   

And that kind of gives context to what we do here in this life because all of us are called to do God’s will in this life.  But God’s will is very different for each one of us.  Jesus tells Thomas, that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”.  And indeed, Jesus accepted the Father’s will for Him, and deferred in obedience, accepting death, even death on a cross. 

But now, he is in a special place in Heaven by the Father’s side.   

This morning’s first reading is all about the call of the first Deacons.  The Presbyters needed to concern themselves with the Word and teaching.  They didn’t want that calling to be diluted by having to deal with  some of the more pragmatic tasks in the first Christian communities, such as the distribution of the meals.  So, they chose seven men to be Deacons to do that.   

But notice that they chose men “filled with the spirit and wisdom”.  They didn’t just choose people who were good at being waiters.  They needed such people because they were concerned with the equitable distribution amongst both the Jews and the Gentiles, the mixed congregation of Christians.  These Deacons were charged with making sure that the practical details were met,,and met with fairness.   

What I am suggesting is that such vocations are life-long learning experiences.  When we accept them, we do God’s will and give up our own personal goals in deference to God’s goals.  That vocation may transcend our lives in this world, and somehow help us in our unique places in the next.   

And so, if there is a unique calling for us in this life, and there is a unique place for us in the next life; then there must somehow be a connection between the two.  We don’t live this life for 30, 50, or even 80 years or more without there being some correlation between our learning and our experiences here in this world, with life in the next world.   

This means that the place we will given in the Heavenly Kingdom somehow completes a journey where we finally reconcile diversity and harmony; happiness and engagement; talent and exercise of it; worship of God and rest.   

These concepts are covered in a different way in the second reading which talks about Christ being the cornerstone of a living abode.  Indeed, Christ is the cornerstone of the foundation of the Church; and all of us are “living stones” which have a particular place and function in that abode.  But all together, we constitute one body, the Church, working in harmony and tightly bound together.   

Today is Mother’s Day.  What better example is there for how to fulfill the will of God in a vocation, and benefit from the experience?  Mothers love, nurture, teach, encourage, advise, and then eventually let go of their children.  They are the first teachers, along with their Dads, of the Faith that their children have.  And they provide context for life, the development of a healthy conscience, and so much more for their children.  

Like all true vocations that we are called to, they have to empty themselves and defer to others in the process.  And that is something that all good mothers certainly do.  Ideally, they don’t do it alone, but with the mutual love and support of their husbands.  But their children are of primary importance to them.  They do for their children in deference to themselves over and over again, giving up things often so their children can have instead.   

They do the wash, they cook the meals, they mend, they fuss over every hurt, they comfort, they encourage, they chastise, they correct, they defend; and they take great pride in the people that their children become.  But then, they have to let go, as their children leave home, and make their own families and lives.   

There is a special place in Heaven for Mothers who do this well; that’s one of those places that Jesus was talking about.   

Today, as we celebrate Mothers Day, let us remember all who have had this vocation in our families- our living mothers, and those mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers who have found that special place that Jesus has led them to in His Heavenly Kingdom. 

Recognizing the Narrow Way

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2: 14a; 36-41; 1 Pet 2: 20b-25; Jn 10: 1-10

Deacon Larry Brockman

The Gospel says: “When they heard this they were cut to the heart!”  And it is well that they should have been so affected, because Peter is talking to the same people who were standing in the Portico shouting “Crucify Him” on Good Friday.   

So, the focus this week has shifted from the body of believers, to the great sea of other people who were just part of the crowd.  But now it is more than 50 days after the Crucifixion, and they had seen what had happened to the Apostles.  Here were all eleven of them, fearless, joyful, and proclaiming the name of Jesus.  Some 500 of the believers had seen the Risen Jesus, whom this crowd in front of Peter had wanted crucified.  The crowd was there because they had heard all about it from these witnesses.  

And so now, they were “cut to the heart”.  They had made a mistake- what a terrible mistake, too.  “Woe unto Me”, they were thinking.  “Surely Jesus will seek revenge on those of us who persecuted and mocked him”, they thought.  Hence, they said “what are we to do?”   

But instead of condemning them, Peter is giving them “good news”.  Because he is telling them that Jesus suffered to save them as well.  All they have to do is believe now, even now, after all that they said and did against Jesus.  All they had to do now was believe in him and repent; and they, too, would be saved.  We hear that some 3000 of them accepted that invitation; they didn’t say how many didn’t accept it.   

Well, how does all that this apply to us?  A couple of ways, I believe.   

First, we are constantly faced with our own failings after we make a sincere effort to repent.  We are like a member of the crowd who says “Woe is me, I have done wrong even after I pledged I would repent.”  But the message is that Jesus is always there for us no matter how many times we fail.  As the letter of Peter makes clear, we are all called to be patient and to suffer for doing good. 

This just doesn’t happen once, but it happens over and over again for most of us.  What is important is that each time we fall, we recognize that God is relentless, and still wants us.  And so, we respond to him with a humble and contrite heart each time and are forgiven.    And the second thing that comes to mind is that we, just like the eleven standing on the steps of the temple in 0 AD, we are the witnesses who are called to go out into the community and tell the truth about Christianity.   

We are to help the general public understand that they are like sheep, wandering aimlessly throughout this world, looking for the real shepherd amongst a sea of thieves and charlatans, all of whom are pushing what the world has to offer.  Indeed, many of our contemporaries don’t know where they are going and live life day by day.     

The Gospel says the Pharisees didn’t understand the parable.  They thought they had the answer and were leading the people.  They had studied the scriptures and dedicated their lives to living the Mosaic law.  But something was missing- the real objective of living life.  It wasn’t all about just living the law; it was about loving God and neighbor, a message Jesus preached for three years.  Jesus implied that this emphasis trumped the law- that compliance to the law was not as important as living a life founded in love.   

So, Jesus told them explicitly what the parable meant.  He told them those who were “not entering through the narrow gate” which Jesus himself controlled, were thieves and robbers- stealing the sheep from the right and fruitful way.  Indeed, these Pharisees were trying to lead the people, but they didn’t understand God’s “narrow way”.  They jumped the fence and were leading the people in other ways.   

But the real shepherd, Jesus, has a familiar voice,  A voice that welcomes, soothes, reassures and always leads them into safety.  It’s that voice inside of us that God uses to prompt us all the time; any other voice of authority will distract us, and even rob us of our intended destiny.   

We are modern day witnesses to Christ like the 500 in the early Church.  By our love and example, we can lead others to God.  We are called to help others recognize the narrow gate and respond to the Good Shepherd’s voice.