Jun 24, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Do not be afraid"

"Fear no one . . . speak in the light . . . proclaim on the housetops."

Jer 20: 10-13
Rom 5: 12-13
Mt 10: 26-33

When I was around 6th grade my younger brother and I loved to watch a television show entitled "The Twilight Zone"which was popular in the late 1950's and early 60's and still plays today in eternal reruns.  The show presented some pretty fanciful  science and psychological thrillers that seemed real enough, at least to the mind of a 9 or 10 year old boy, which created a strange sense of foreboding. It played with your imagination with wild scenarios which appeared on the verge of possibility. I would have an odd desire to be frightened yet was also intrigued by the possibility that outer space aliens might really come to earth and dupe us into being food for them through their alleged benevolence for humanity. So I was fearful yet also attracted by the possibility that such things may actually happen. Not sure what I would have done if they did. Probably run and hide under the covers!     

Looking back of course on such ungrounded fears they seem a bit silly. Obviously, I eventually got over this and barely even think about it today. Science fiction is fiction.  Yet, fear in far more exaggerated forms with far better reasons, such as a real threat to life and safety, are very grounded in the experience of many.  Instilling fear seems to be a tactic of various dangerous groups around the world these days and just listening to the news can create much concern for any of us. 

In our readings this weekend, despite the fact that three times in the Gospel we hear Jesus say: “Do not be afraid,” we hear a message of both hope and comfort at the same time. Still, three times in the Gospel Jesus tells us: “Do not fear” so there must be something to be afraid of? It might feel the same as if a parent said to their child waiting in the doctor’s reception area: “Now don’t be afraid!” Yikes! 

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah comes across as the most revealing of the Old Testament prophets.  He honestly shares his real anxiety with his readers: “I hear the whispers of many; terror on every side! . . . we can prevail and take vengeance upon him.” This is not the lament of a paranoid prophet but the real experience of rejection and misunderstanding this great prophet of the Babylonian exile shared intimately in his writings. 

Soon, though, Jeremiah turns it around in an inspiring response to the fear he experiences: “But the LORD is with me like a mighty champion . . . praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor . . .” Even though Jeremiah found the vocation of a prophet to be deeply challenging, he knew that good was on his side and God would be his rescuer in spite of what may have seemed insurmountable odds.  The point of Jeremiah’s honest sharing is that he never lost hope in the protection that God promised and neither should we.

We move to the Gospel and find ourselves in the middle of Matthew chapter 10 which offers the advice of Jesus to the 12 disciples he had sent out on mission.  While there may be some glamour in representing the ministry of this great prophet of God whose teaching and power was by this time evident, our Lord well knew what and where his disciples would encounter opposition.  Earlier Jesus told them, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.”  (Mt 10: 16).  If these men had any na├»ve expectations they would be welcomed with open arms with the message of the good news, this statement alone would have squelched their enthusiasm.

Yet, this reality check by our Lord uncovers the necessity for the Gospel message of hope.  Our Gospel passage today is far more filled with encouragement than it is with foreboding. Jesus encourages his disciples to share the good news openly, to speak in “the light” of day for all to know.  No secrets, nothing hidden.  They are not being sent with a “good bye and good luck” attitude but rather the confidence of knowing that in spite of the hard times of rejection ahead, their loyalty to Christ and the power of the message they carry will prevail.  Jesus will remain with them so do not be afraid.  God knows everything intimately so have confidence since your worth is far more to God than any living thing. 

So it is with some fears we have.  We simply grow out of them or overcome them in time.  If we fear too much, it may indicate that we lack faith.  If we find ourselves always worried about out welfare, our health, our safety then we need to confront those fears and judge how grounded they may or may not be. 

Knowing how much we are valued by the God who created us, as Jesus reassures us today, we are called to embrace the message of the Gospel he has entrusted to us since our own baptism.  Pope Francis reminded us that we are “missionary disciples” sent out to change the world around us.  That may seem like a tall order and indeed it is for us since he world is either indifferent, hostile, politely dismissive, yet also hungry for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

So, as the disciples by now had developed a closer relationship with Jesus, coming to know him more intimately, hearing of his message and a witness to his wonder works, so too are we reminded that we have heard the same, albeit in the Gospel stories, but also in our personal lives.

We have all had moments when we felt we were saved from danger, or met someone who became a personal help in times of need, or witnessed prayer answered and worries transformed to gratitude.  Confronted with a tough situation or a great disappointment we hung in there and through prayer and trust we knew that God prevailed in our lives. There were probably also moments where we recognized that we just worry too much and trust very little. 

In the end, maybe taking to heart the promise of Jesus today to his disciples about letting go of their worry would do us well to reflect more on our lack of faith or may indicate to us that it is time we do something about the ungrounded fears we carry. 

The message of the Gospel is one of joy not fear; of hope and not despair.  Jesus brought “good news” and became the “light of the world” in order to help us overcome the dark concerns we may carry. 

There is no magic in the grace of God and sometimes we are called to carry that cross patiently as we are strengthened in faith in times of testing.  But in the end our Lord reminds us as well, “do not fear.”  If we remain his loyal disciples we have confidence that we will not be overcome.

The Eucharist comes to us as a sign of God’s enduring love; as food for our journey in a broken world.  As Pope Francis also said, it isn’t food for the perfect but for sinners.  Through the Church we can find healing and reconciliation, the support of a community of other imperfect believers, and the grace necessary to walk without a fear that would paralyze us.   

Grant, O Lord, 
that we may always revere and love your holy name, 
for you never deprive of your guidance
those you set firm on the foundation of your love. 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)

Jun 16, 2017

Super Food

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

"This is the bread that came down from heaven"

Dt 8: 2-3, 14B-16A
1 Cor 10: 16 - 17
Jn 6: 51-58

If there is any food which has been a universal experience for all humanity over the past thousands of years, I think it would be bread.  In some way, shape and form countless cultures have formed in some manner a food that we refer to as bread.  From the ancient Egyptians to our own day of various forms of “designer” bread filled with all sorts of grains and seeds and other fruits and berries, we all enjoy this universal source of food, gluten free or not. 

One local well known bakery even sells bread named “Super Food” which is filled with all sorts of healthy grains in a very delicious combination.  (It's great toasted by the way.) Yet, a long way in flavor and effect though, from the bread we reflect on today and this bread has far more benefits than even the most powerful of “super foods.”  

If we look carefully at our readings on this beautiful feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we will hear of bread.  The first reading from Deuteronomy begins with Moses address to the people and the word, “Remember.”  Later we hear this emphasized with the phrase, “Do not forget.”  Moses reminds the people of the super food God gave them in the desert; the “manna” bread like substance which appeared on the desert floor in a time of their great hunger.  This bread became a sign for the people and Moses reminds them that God provided for them in their need not just because they were hungry but to test their faith and loyalty.  To, “. . . find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments . . . in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live . . .”  This test of their personal connection with the Lord who would save and sustain them was all part of their formation and their understanding of who God was for them. Since that event, the Jews have seen that moment of manna as a sign of God’s faithfulness and care for them. This bread became a sign of life that God had given.

If we move to the Gospel we see the one who comes among us to say: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; . . .”   Jesus makes himself to be bread – food for life, eternal life. Like the manna from heaven, this living bread is beyond just food that sustains but is rather a super food.  Every time, then, as Moses spoke to his people in the desert, we “remember” what God has done for us through his Son who gave us himself to be food, super food: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I  in him . . .”

This is a great sacramental mystery – the Eucharist – which we Catholics truly believe to not a symbol, some sort of reminder or recall of a meal eaten with Jesus 20 centuries ago like one might remember a birthday party or family picnic.  But this IS a Person and every time we consume, literally eat and drink, this Person, we share in his risen life.  So, no we are not cannibals as the early Christians were unfairly labeled by pagan Roman Emperors and suspicious other non-Christians.  In the mysterious work of God, we encounter the risen Lord truly present to us in a substantive way behind the signs of bread and wine.  If that isn’t “super food” what would be more than that? 

This theme of food and bread runs through our readings this Sunday and is one that not only is easy to wrap our heads around but remains a challenge to logic and reason.  Only through eyes of faith can we believe this to be true. 

The Mass then is this great meal which levels out the diversity among us.  Walls are torn down, differences make no difference, and we gather together as one family in the Lord who becomes that food from heaven for our journey through this life.  The unity the Eucharist creates among us is meant to not stop in Church.  While everything is fine for an hour, where do we go afterwards?  Maybe an even more essential question may be, why do we come? 

While the obligation to attend Mass each weekend and Holy day is a serious one for all Catholics, really why do you come?  Is it only out of obligation to sooth our guilt?  Or do I come to seek a deeper life as a Catholic Christian?  Do I come to simply catch up on the news of the week by seeing friends or I love the music or I want to be seen as a good Catholic? 

One of the best reasons might be to come because I am hungry and I need to be fed.  We begin the Mass with the sign of the cross and then right off the bat, we express our hunger for forgiveness and mercy.  We “recall our sins.”  That is either a downer, to begin so negatively as we stress where we have strayed or it is an expression of our need for God – our hunger before him.  We carry that farther as we express “Lord have mercy.”  Lord, I am hungry and need to be fed by your mercy.  Only then can we enter this great mystery of God’s mercy for us. 

To satisfy hunger we eat food and we drink.  As the Mass moves we now are fed by the word of God – the Scriptures.  It was the word of God to the ancient Hebrews, the sacred Torah that fed them now and continues to be the focal point of their worship. Those five books of the Sacred Law of God remain an essential reminder of God’s Covenant with his people.

Then, Jesus came as God’s word made flesh.  The scriptures feed us as His sacred word. Not a new Word but a living word beyond the Old. What God says brings confidence and hope. This is a time to remember what God did and we are given confidence that he continues to do for us today.  So, the word is a living word, not just a book of ancient history.

We move then to more food - from the living word on paper to the living word of person. Bread and wine come first as a symbol and then become sign.  It is the symbol of our lives, offered to the Father to be changed.  So, when the priest raises the bread and wine in prayer: “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation . . .” he offers at the same time the people gathered and himself. And as the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit what was once only a symbol now becomes a sign.  A true sign of God’s presence as we remember the words spoken by his Word among us: This is my Body . . . This is my Blood.  What was given as bread is now transformed into super food for us – the very life and presence of the risen one come to us as living bread. 

So we come because we are hungry for Christ himself and we need to be fed with Word and Sacrament.  Yet, the danger might be to turn the Mass into a private devotion.  Let me just sit or kneel here in peace and when it’s over, I’m gone.  However, this is not a meal for one or a private table.  This is food for all who are hungry.

Ultimately, one of the greatest expressions of the implication of the Eucharist was given by Jesus himself at the Last Supper according to John – he washed the feet of his Apostles.  As he was about to lay down his life for those he loved, he washes their feet as a sign they will never forget and to imitate.  No great fanfare, no marching bands, no inspiring choir just the act of a slave as God humbled himself in a stark action that surely made an indelible impression on those gathered that night.  “As I have done so you must do . . .”

Called to lay our lives, to sacrifice for the common good and for the good of others, we live out the meaning of this super food.  Jesus doesn’t come for me but for us in a way that brings about a bond of unity with him and with others through this bread from heaven. This encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is a transformative moment for us. 

While the theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas in particular in the 14th century, coined the term: “Transubstantiation” to explain the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist if it only remains on a shelf of books in some theological text, then we miss the whole point of Jesus’ example.  The “full, active and conscious participation” the Second Vatican Council called for in the celebration of Mass goes well beyond the walls of the Church – to the world outside.  I should hunger to be fully, consciously and actively involved in the life of Christ himself.

So “do not forget” but let us remember this great act of divine love and with humble hearts, share in the super food which has the power to change us to conform more to his own example. 

“Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”

“It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that he comes
down each day from heaven,
but to find another heaven,
the heaven of our soul in which he takes delight.”

St. Therese of Liseux

Jun 10, 2017

Feast of the Holy Trinity: Unity in Community

"The LORD, a merciful and gracious God"

Ex 34: 4B-6, 8-9
2 Cor 13: 11-13
Jn 3: 16-18

There is an Indian folk tale about three blind men who examine an elephant to try to determine what sort of animal it might be.  So, the first grabs hold of the elephant’s tale and says, “This animal is like a rope.” The second man stands towards the front and rubs his hand over the large tusks as he declares, “This creature is very much like a sword.”  The third reaches up and runs his hand over the side of the enormous elephant, patting it firmly, and states, “This creature is surely a wall.”

Each man sensed one characteristic of the elephant but their understanding was limited.  Yet, as they shared their perceptions, each of them was given an understanding of the animal they could not have come to on their own.  But, the animal still remained a mystery as to its full identity. It would take many more of the parts to put together a true image of the elephant.

When it comes to the question of God, in the same way, we may feel somewhat limited in our understanding. After all we deal with spiritual mystery here. Yet, we comprehend a part of who God is but he remains beyond our full understanding.  As Christians we have come to know more of God through his own Son Jesus Christ.  He revealed to us, in a true sense uncovered for us, some of the hidden aspects of God.  If Christ had not come to us we would be in total darkness. There is a good reason why he referred to himself as the “light of the world” and Jesus himself reminded us that the “Father and I are One” and “we will send the Spirit.”

This weekend on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, always falling on the Sunday after Pentecost, we mark that great uncovering on the nature of the divine.  Belief in the Holy Trinity is uniquely Christian for no other world religion sees God in this way. As we have come to know him as a Trinity of Persons we know what God is like.  We have an image not of just one part but of the whole of God. Although limited in our full understanding, we believe God is three yet one; three divine persons yet one in their unity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit - One eternal God. Our Jewish brethren, while joining with us in belief that there is only One true God, see him as totally other and single in nature.

True, this is heady stuff to be sure.  Yet, the Church, in direct defense against false understanding about the nature of the Son, formally defined the Trinity in what we proclaim as the Nicene Creed in the year 325.  It should be very familiar to us for we proclaim it every Sunday and Feast Day of the year: “I believe in one God the Father Almighty . . .I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It is the central (objective) truth of the Christian faith and what we profess to believe.
We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each time we make the sign of the cross we proclaim this core belief of the Christian faith. Still how important is this and how will it impact my daily personal life? I need more than a theological explanation to live by. 

Our Gospel reading from John offers more than theology but an invitation: John writes a very familiar phrase: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  (Jn 3:16).

In the same way, in the first reading from Exodus we hear God reveal his nature: “merciful and gracious . . . slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Here Moses pleaded with God on behalf of a people who had quickly forgotten the original covenant on Mt. Sinai, that he would give his people a second chance.  God relents and assures Moses he is Lord who reaches out and desires a renewed covenant with his people.

John tells us: God “loved” and God “sent.”  Those two words to love and to send imply an active God.  A God who reaches out, who extends himself not out of vengeance or punishment but out of love and mercy towards those he reaches to. He communicates with us as a living being. His Son is his Word.  Like a hand reached out to rescue a drowning man God has extended himself out to us in love to rescue us from our own sin.

So God is love as John tells us.  God did not remain hidden but took on our own flawed human nature and became visible to us on our terms, in a language we could understand.  This Jesus, his Word, as our Creed reminds us is God from God, light from light, true God from true God, made a proposition to us – love God and love your neighbor.  That God does not desire our death but offers us eternal life.  Faith in his Son is the promise of eternal life.

This reach out in love for humanity tells us that our faith is not one of just laws, rules and regulations.  We are invited to a personal relationship with this living God who invites us through his Son to come to know him on a personal level. He desires a covenant, a promise with us that is eternal and binding.  God is a God of promise, of love and communicates himself to us. 

Therefore we might say that God in his unity creates a community of persons whose very nature is to love us into life.  This unity in community is the great understanding for how we are to live.  If we as Christians live as God desires then our own lives will promote unity and not division; faithfulness and not selfishness; love and not violence; inclusiveness and not prejudice; forgiveness and not judgment.  The potential for human society is unlimited if we were to follow the way Christ has shown us. 

This Trinity of Persons invites us to be united as one and to become a force for truth in the world and an inspiration that gathers rather than scatters and a community which welcomes rather than rejects.  With Christ himself as the center we stand around him particularly in the Holy Eucharist which reveals the true nature of God to us. 

A unity in community is a model for marriage and family life, for the diverse collection of parishioners in any parish, in our own personal prayer to desire a deeper knowledge of God as we experience his presence in our life. 

How blessed are we in our Catholic life which promotes community of persons united by one faith around a common word and his altar.  May that unity in community reflect the true nature of this God who loves and reaches out to us continually.    

May the love of the Father, 
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with us and remain with us 
for all the ages. 

Jun 6, 2017

Welcome to Ordinary Time

If you've ever traveled overseas, say to western Europe, you know well the meaning of "jet lag."  Within a matter of hours, we are transported across nine time zones and land early in the morning in another country and culture.  While it may be 8 a.m. where you settle, your body says its eleven pm. where you came from and you should be in bed.  Despite the wonders of modern transportation, something Lewis and Clark could only imagine in their wildest dreams, it takes a little more time for you to acclimate. For me, it is always going west, into daylight all the way, and landing at home that causes a few days for head and body to catch up with each other.

The point is that time is essentially our invention.  The earth and planets revolve around the sun and light and darkness has for billions of years passed across this planet which we say mark day and night.  This, we might say, is the ordinary pattern of daily living.  There is nothing we can do to speed up or slow down that process - "time moves on" as we say.

The same is true with our liturgical calendar.  Post Easter season and the Feast of Pentecost, we return to that time called Ordinary.  The green color becomes predominant in the vestments of the priest and we settle in to a more routine.  No Easter candle standing prominently in the sanctuary, flowers may be more subdued, far too early for the Christmas crib or the purple of next year's Lent.  This is a time familiar to us in its more "ordinary" pattern.

Yet, we may use that word to imply a kind of same old/same old.  Or even a lesser sense of boredom.  However, when we understand that the purpose of this season is to walk the Christian life through reflecting on the life of Jesus: his teachings, parables, interactions, miracle stories during the years of his public ministry.  What does it mean for us, in our daily walk with the Lord, to know him and to live our our Christian call through baptism, to be his missionary disciples?  The Word of God is rich with inspiration and provides us the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.

The color green symbolizes not only life but life in Christ Jesus.  All living and inanimate things, created by a loving God, exist in praise of him.  How can we live in praise of the Father?  By coming to know his Son sent to us,

In that light, we may continue to ask the question: What part of me still needs to hear the good news preached?  What part of me do I still resist conversion?  How can I be more effective in my daily Christian life?  As I move into summer, how's my prayer life?  We can ask ourselves many important questions and find ourselves during the Ordinary Time becoming more extraordinary in our Christian/Catholic life.

So, while green predominates now until the end of November, we will also see during the week red for martyrs, white for pastors, virgins, and the Blessed Mother.  All our family of Saints in heaven who cheer us on, who have run the race we are running, and who stand as our intercessors and inspiration.

May this Ordinary Time of the liturgical year be rich and meaningful for all of us.  May we look to the Holy Spirit's inspiration and guide to show us the way with Christ and open our hearts to God's abundant grace and mercy.

Happy Ordinary!