Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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April 28, 2019
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Confirmation & First Communion);
Vietnamese Catholic Community, at Co-Cathedral (Confirmation & First Communion)]
One of the winners in this year’s Merrie Monarch Hula Competition said she danced so well because she could feel the spirit of her kupuna, her elders, living and dead, surrounding her. This is a beautiful expression of a love that never dies and that brings out the best in us. In the Disney movie Moana we also see that when Moana was frustrated and ready to give up on her mission, it was the spirit of her grandmother that gave her strength and focus to continue to do what she needed to do, so that life and prosperity could be restored to all the islands.
We celebrate certain holidays that honor particular people who inspire us: Martin Luther King, Jr.; King Kamehameha; Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They are all dead, but their history and their spirits can still inspire us to be as heroic as they were in bringing justice, unity, and peace to the world.
I often think that this is the way we think of Jesus as well. He did mighty and amazing works, like healing the sick, raising the dead, and multiplying scarce food to feed huge crowds. And he taught us valuable lessons, like forgiving those who hurt us, caring for the poor, and treating all people as our beloved neighbor. If we take the time to learn about him, we can be inspired by him and even feel his spirit. We will probably be better people for it.
But Jesus is entirely different from any of these inspiring people, whether they are heroes and heroines of global history of our own personal history. First of all, he is God and human, fully and completely wedding the two natures together in one person; and no one else in the history of the world can make that claim. Secondly, like all humans, he died; but unlike any other human being before him, he rose from the dead, never to die again. But the question of us is: Do we treat him as a wonderful person from whom we can learn so much; or as someone who is alive now and active among us now? We can easily forget that we are not here simply to hear about a wonderful person who lived in the past and to, hopefully, be inspired by his life. We are here to physically encounter him, because he is truly present with us here, especially in this Eucharist that we celebrate.
The same Jesus who appeared to his disciples the night he rose from the dead is no less present with us here and now in this Mass than he was in that upper room in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. It is true, we cannot put our fingers in his wounds and our hands in his side, but, as Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” On that night long ago, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And today in the sacrament of Confirmation, Jesus anoints you with the breath of his spirit, sealing you and marking you as his very own, and filling you with the living Spirit of his love from this day forward. Then he makes himself physically present under the appearances of bread and wine, which are truly changed into his Body and Blood, so that he can embrace us so intimately that it will change us and make us like him. We become members of the risen Body of Jesus, who continues to live and act in the world through his Body, the Church.
Yes, like those first disciples, we lock the doors by confining him to the history books or by shutting him out of our hearts. But he comes right in and gives us the gift of his peace, a peace no one can take from us, no matter what difficulties we may encounter. And the wonderful works that Jesus did centuries ago, he continues to do through us who, in communion with him, are members of his Body. This was why even Peter’s shadow was so powerful in healing people. It was not Peter who healed them, but his communion with the living Jesus that did so. That is exactly what Jesus wants to continue to do, entrusting to us who receive his Holy Spirit and who physically encounter him with the forgiveness of sin, with healing, and with providing nourishment to all in need. This is why for 2,000 years we have not only had an annual celebration of Jesus, as we do for other historical people who inspire us, but a celebration that happens every Sunday, indeed every day, so that the Alleluia’s we sing with our voices can be sung in all the wonderful works of healing and love that we do in the name of the risen Jesus himself.