The wedding feast of the Lamb

Father Charles Irvin

St. John, the Apostle of Love, opens up his Gospel with the wedding feast at Cana. There we find Jesus, at his mother Mary’s request, changing water into wine. He demurs and tells her “my hour has not yet come” but nevertheless performs her requested miracle. The “hour” of which he spoke was the time of his passion, death, and resurrection. Specifically it was when he celebrated the Last Supper. There the bread and wine were changed into his body and blood when he gave us himself in the new and everlasting Covenant.

In his Book of Revelation, St. John speaks of the Last Supper as “The wedding banquet of the Lord.” (Revelation 19:7-21) Thus St. John brackets his entire “Good News” with two wedding feasts, the one at Cana, the other the Lord’s Supper, the celebration of the nuptials in which God the Son marries himself with our humanity in a covenant sealed in his blood, a covenant union that can never be broken.

A contract can be rescinded; we can break our contracts by our choices and actions. A covenant however cannot be rescinded – it remains forever. “This is my body,” the Lord declares. “Take it and make it yours.” “This is my blood, my life. Take it and mingle it with yours,” he is saying. “I am marrying you and even though you put me to death I will come back out of the grave to love you because nothing can make me not love you. I will never divorce myself from you.”

The sacrament of matrimony is our joining into the wedding feast of the Lamb, our uniting into the Covenant love of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

The sacrament of matrimony replicates the permanent commitment, body and soul, in which God’s everlasting love is given and received. How fitting and wonderful that it is made real for us in holy Communion. How beautiful it is that God’s permanent love is made real for us in the sacrament of matrimony. We should celebrate it and then live it in awe and wonder.

Do you give the most important gift - time?

Father Charles Irvin

In the commodities found in life’s marketplace there is an inflexible law: the fewer there are the more valuable they become, and the more there are the less value each one has. Currency is devalued when more and more of it is printed and put into circulation. The less in circulation, the more value each unit has.

So what does that have to do with life in our parishes, our families of faith? It’s all about time, our valuable time generously donated to our parish’s volunteer efforts. To be sure, we need to support our parish ministries with our monetary donations. But more so, our time is increasingly precious.

It’s no secret that most of us find that our commitments are being stretched, stretched because they require commitments over lengths of time greater than those that are simply occasional. This is particularly true for parents of school children. The demands put upon them are greater than the supply of time that they have. Many parents live in near frenzied lives. They greatly value their time.

In my days as a pastor I once printed this little ditty in my parish’s bulletin: “There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

The blame game accomplishes nothing. Loving generosity with your time accomplishes a whole lot. Charitable contributions of your money are valuable and appreciated, but donating your valuable time is precious in the eyes of God. Love has no limits.

The Bible tells us that our treasure is where our heart is. Perhaps we should add: “Our treasure is where we invest our time.”

What is God calling me to be? A step-by-step guide to discernment

Father Charles Irvin

Perhaps you have asked yourself, “Is God calling me to be a priest?”  “Is God calling me to be a sister?”  If the hint is in your heart and mind, you can assume that God put it there for a reason – a reason that may remain mysterious regardless of how your eventual life will unfold. Do not easily dismiss the idea; do not assume that God couldn’t possibly be calling you to something special. God brought you into life for a purpose. You were not born because of a chance rolling of cosmic dice. From all eternity, God had you in his mind. If you don’t love God as who you are no one else will.

OK, once you get past that hurdle (and the devil will make you jump over lots of others!), the next thing you should do is give God some time alone with you in prayer – meditative prayer that allows you to see your life as you imagine God sees it. Tell God that you love him and ask him to guide you and fill your thoughts with his thoughts.

Next, take some good, in-depth looks into yourself. Do you like people? Do you love to help people? Are you naturally caring? Do you want to please God? Are you able to talk with God, to listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit deep within you? Do you believe the Holy Spirit is quite capable of inspiring your thoughts and your imagination with mental pictures? Of filling your heart with particular feelings? Beware of the devil trying to convince you that all of these inspirations are simply the result of your own fantasies.

Finally, don’t be hesitant about talking with a priest or a sister about your suspicions that God may be calling you. After all, they had to go through the same sort of discernment process. If they went through it, they are certainly capable of helping you with yours.

A calling from God is a precious thing for the whole Church. It’s not something just for you alone; it’s a gift for us all. So be generous. Have courage; set your fears aside. Remember that Jesus repeatedly had to tell his disciples not to be afraid. Remember that God doesn’t play dirty tricks on us. Have faith, have confidence and let God lead you into the life he wants for you. His heart speaks to your heart. Remember, too, that the heart has its reasons the mind doesn’t know about.

Lay ministers responding to God's call

Father Charles Irvin

Other called a chosen people. Among them he called kings, patriarchs, and prophets. Jesus called his apostles and disciples to be laborers in God’s vineyard and to reveal God’s kingdom here on earth. The Holy Spirit calls us now and empowers all with his many and various gifts to build up the body of Christ, his Church. All of us are called to live as temples of the Holy Spirit and apostles of his care.

Lay ministry is a generic term that covers a wide variety of ministries exercised by the laity –  full- time, part time, in official Church offices, or in volunteer associations. Some are teachers, others are parish coordinators; some work in diocesan offices, and some are given administrative responsibilities in parishes. Most, however, work in the secular world. All are called to holiness no less than those called to holy orders, or to the religious life

All of us are called by God to work in whatever ways we can to transform the world be revealing God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. The Holy Spirit is always at work in many, varied, and sometimes mysterious ways. We should not, therefore, be looking for uniformity in ministering; we should always be looking for and working toward unity, a unity that comes in working with our bishops and pastors.

Is the Holy Spirit calling you? Is he whispering into your soul’s ears, urging you again and again to share your time and talents in accomplishing his work? Is there an area of ministry not yet established in your parish family that you have an interest in developing? Remember that Jesus told his followers not to hide their gifts, their talents, their lights under a bushel but rather to put them on a lampstand so all might see? False humility (a favorite tool of the devil) may be holding you back.  Jesus, however, said: “Let your light shine so that all may give glory not to you but to your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:15)

Remember that if you don’t love God and serve his purposes just as you, in your own uniqueness, then he will never be loved and served in that way by anyone else. You are infinitely special in God’s eyes and in his grand scheme of things. He is calling. How will you respond?

The birth of a child

Father Charles Irvin

The birth of a child brings with it Love’s insistent call. That child’s mother will never ever again not be a mother; that child’s father will never ever again not be a father. That newborn child comes to us from Love and summons us to make our life’s journey to Love.

The birth of Jesus is God’s gift of love incarnate, given to us in our humanity, in our flesh and to our souls. It is to Love we are called and to make our way through life. The consequences are eternal, not incidental.

When we take the hand of a newborn child, we cannot help but become aware of a special feeling within us, a feeling that will mature into an awareness that God’s power has done something truly wonder-full, while at the same time placing on our hearts an awesome responsibility – the ability to respond to his stupendous creating love.

It’s hard for us to realize that we are co-creators with God. Think about that and ponder over it. Almighty God, the God who created the universe, bringing light out of darkness and life out of inert matter, has shared his awesome and creating power with us! Not only that, but he has given us his spirit, his spirit of love, that we might have what we need to share his love with that newborn baby and bring that child through its maturation to the point where he or she will share in that same awesome love and power of God. The mind buckles, but faith equips and enables us.

Before the mountains were raised, the seas were filled, the stars were flung into the void and the planets were placed in their orbits, God had you in his mind, had you, in his heart. We humans share much in common, but each one of us is special and unique. If God is not loved by you he will never be loved by anyone else just like you! You are the only one who can love him as you.

Christmas is all about Love coming to us as one of us. God’s gift to us is love incarnate. It is to Love that we are called and make our journey.

Have a blessed Christmas!

What is courage?

Father Charles Irvin

Coeur is the French word for heart. When we speak of courage, then, we are speaking about strength of heart; we are speaking about being stouthearted in the face of fear, in the face of imminent loss.

Who among us has not admired people who have been courageous in battle, or courageous in the face of physical illnesses or disabilities… in the face of the loss of their children, their parents, or these days in the face of the loss of their homes? Folks we know have lost their businesses, the loss of their jobs, and the loss of their savings. We can’t help but admire them. So many of our heroes are saints who, with great courage, have suffered martyrdom.

We live in a time of losses, losses of so many kinds. When you stop and think about it, much of life is dealing with loss. Courage is not all that exceptional. It is found in the lives of most of us.

It’s difficult for me to understand how those of no faith can face with courage the losses inflicted on them these days. At the same time, it seems to me that our Christian faith in God and in Jesus Christ who took on our human condition, is a wonderful power that equips us with tremendous courage to face down all that life can throw at us.

As Christians, we need also to have moral courage, the courage to stand up for life and for all that is decent and right in the face of the moral collapse we so often encounter in the culture that surrounds us.

Courage, it seems to me, isn’t something that’s simply “nice.” We need moral courage in the face of those who would criticize us for holding dear what we so value. Courage is not simply an admirable virtue. Courage is a necessity. Without it, what would we be? Perhaps that’s why we have a crucifix hanging in our churches. It reminds us of who we are and all that we can be.

What do we mean by 'justice'?

Father Charles Irvin

There are a number of definitions for justice, depending upon what kind of justice is being talked about. Justice is fairness. Justice is proper conviction for a crime. Justice is not retribution, nor is it vengeance. Justice is a balancing of equities. Justice is rendering what is due to the disputing parties, the complainant and defendant alike. Even that balancing may not be true justice, because there will be questions as to who determines “what is due.”

A criminal trial is not a search for justice, nor a search for truth, nor for vengeance. No. A criminal trial searches for only one thing, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on credible and admissible evidence.

If you are speaking of “justice,” don’t seek it in a courtroom. A young lawyer once famously asked Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to give justice. To which Justice Holmes replied: “This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.”

The law is concerned with rules of procedure, rules of admissible evidence and providing a fair and impartial forum in which the litigants may ethically argue their cases. This is what a court of law offers, nothing more.

Philosophers, moralists and theologians seek justice, try to define justice and promote the search for it. Courts do not.

All that I have said here proves that there must be a God. Without God, we wouldn’t even be talking about justice.

Justice needs mercy

Father Charles Irvin

The symbol of Justice is found on the façade of our U.S. Supreme Court and on many of our courthouses. It’s the image of the ancient goddess of Justice, a blindfolded woman holding scales with one hand and a sword (the sword of the state’s power) in the other.  It is telling us that Justice impartially weighs the rights and duties of one party to a conflict as against the rights and duties of the other. Before the power of the state can be applied there must first be a trial in which the relative claims and merits of both parties are impartially weighed.

The symbol also is telling us that there must be a restoration of balance so that the grievance of one party is met by the restitution of the other in order that rights and duties of both can be restored to what they were prior to the trial. This brings into play another factor, namely the question of restitution.

Our system of justice is derived from the Anglo-American body of common law, the principles of which are derived from the common practice of humans in the same or similar circumstances. This is a “bottom up” process of determining what laws we should have. Other systems are derived from code law, many laws of which come to us from the ancient Roman system of laws. This is a “top down” approach to determining what laws we should have.

As Christians, we believe that God is infinitely just and, at the same time, infinitely merciful. How does God put those two transcendent values together? The answer to that question has taxed the minds of legal scholars, philosophers and theologians for centuries. Added to the mix is the question of what constitutes fair and adequate restoration of rights and duties?

It’s a good thing there is a God because some of the legal conflicts we have faced from time to time have seemed insoluble. But, as Christians, we have faith. We believe that God, and sometimes only God, can blend all of the elements together in infinite fairness. That is one of the reasons why the founders of our nation wrote our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution appealing to God for the guidance in determining how we should, as Americans, relate to each other in fairness and with justice.

How should we be generous?

Father Charles Irvin

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). This teaching of Jesus is primarily concerned with keeping us from being puffed up with pride and self-satisfaction. There is more to it, however, because generosity is likewise an extension of unconditional love, the sort of total self-giving that Jesus exemplified by dying for us on the cross.

It is the quality of giving without entailing conditions that I want to point out here. Have you known others who are generous but really are giving money in order to get something in return, who give in order to influence the recipient to do this, that, or another thing? Those who give money to politicians are not really being generous at all; they are investing in an outcome they want. Can you think of times when you have given in similar fashion, given in order to get in return an outcome in your recipient’s behavior? Is that love on your part?

But generosity isn’t just about money; it’s about other things too. What about being generous with our forgiveness? Are we generous there? God has been infinitely generous in giving us his forgiveness. The next time you are in church, spend a few moments gazing on the image of Christ nailed to a cross. Think about how generous God has been in giving you his forgiveness and then consider your own generosity in forgiving others.

Then there’s our time. Sometimes time is more precious to us than money. We need to be generous in sharing our time, particularly with our loved ones. Then, too, there are lots of kids who are starved for time and affection from their parents. Are we generous in listening to what they have to say, in hearing what’s in their hearts?

Finally, instead of being narrow, restrictive, and judgmental of others, let’s you and I be more generous in our opinions of them. Let’s be generous in every way we can and not count the cost. God didn’t!

Faith is reasonable

Father Charles Irvin

There are those who think faith is nothing more than blind acceptance, something that is unreasonable. I don’t. I think faith is something that is reasonable, because there is evidence that an answer will eventually come. Faith and mystery go together. After all, when you are dealing with a mystery, you are dealing with clues. It’s just that all of the clues do not yet add up to certainty. Faith and certainty cannot coexist in the same mind at the same time.

Faith and love are journeys into mystery. Take love, for instance. When you love people, you believe in them. You believe in them even though there’s a certain amount of uncertainty involved. You can’t tell someone you love him unless you believe in him, and you can’t believe in someone, really believe in him, unless you love him.

Both faith and love are choices. Both are acts of the mind. They are not simply feelings, they are choices. Affection is a feeling, an emotion. One chooses to love, just as one chooses to believe –  even though there is a certain amount of mystery involved, even though there is yet more to discover and know.

How can our Creator become one of his creatures? That is a great mystery. Why does God love me? That, too, is a great mystery. But the evidence is that God has become human, and, moreover, the evidence is that God loves me. All of our encounters with God are mysteries. We can ask “Why?” and we can ask “How?” but, in the end, the union between us is found in love and that union is the result of love – God loves me, and I love God. That is the core of all spirituality; God offers himself to us and we respond – the offer and the response being bonded together in love.

The great saints were all great lovers. Their faith was great and their resulting love was greater still. It is love that gives us the assurance of our faith. In love we see what we could not see before. Blaise Paschal famously declared: “The heart has its reasons the mind knows not of.”

Journey into the mystery – have faith in the love of God!

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