Saturday, August 11, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our goal in life, the reason God created us, is to know, love, and serve God in this life, so as to be happy with God forever in the next.

The Scripture readings today offer three things we need to do that will help us to get to heaven.

In the first reading the prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life. He is exhausted, and unable to keep going. But God provides for him. An angel gives him bread from made flesh who has become one of herheaven and something to drink and enables him to travel for 40 days to the place where he will be safe with God. Like Elijah, we need to trust God to help us, to give us what we need to keep going, particularly when life is difficult.

in today’s gospel, a continuation of John 6, the Bread of Life discourse,Jesus tells those listening to him that he is from heaven. Jesus is telling them that he is divine and they need to believe in him in order to have eternal life. We too need to believe that Jesus is God, the Word of God made flesh, who has become one of us, so that just as he shares in our humanity, we will be able to share in his divinity.  

As the Bread of Life, Jesus offers himself to us - body, blood, soul, and divinity -  so in the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, Jesus is our food for the journey and enables us to live forever.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Christian community in Ephesus that they need to be imitators of God. There is no place for hatred or any ungodly behavior in their lives. Rather, to be a Christian is to be like Jesus: merciful and loving, and willing to offer oneself as a sacrifice to God.

Having heard God’s word, we ask the Lord to help us to trust God for all we need.  We ask for the grace to believe in Jesus, the Bread of Life, so that he might show us the depth of the Father's love for us. And we need to imitate God, to be like Jesus, in order that we might live with him forever. Trust, belief, and imitation of the Lord will set us firmly on the path to heaven. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Grumbling and believing are two things most of us do well, but not, of course, at the same time.  Speaking for myself, thanks to the grace of God, I do not grumble as much as I used to, and again with the help of God’s grace, I have grown in faith and belief, even when everything in me wants to grumble. There are times when I battle within myself not to grumble, but instead to put my faith and trust in the Lord. What makes the difference is remembering to keep my eyes on Jesus.

In today’s first reading from Exodus, the Israelite community is in the desert, grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and not without reason.  They were in a tough spot and things were not going the way they had expected them to go.  Nothing good happens when people are “hangry” and that they were. And, as we all know, once a few good grumblers get going, others join in, and rather quickly, everyone is drawn into giving voice to their unhappiness. God’s people were complaining, demanding, and fearful, and were not believing that God cared for them and was with them.

But the Lord God heard their grumbling and gave them bread from heaven, proving that God would provide for them.  However, the Lord was testing them as well, to see if they would follow God’s instructions. God gives us what we need, but it seems there is always a catch. God always call us to go beyond ourselves, not to be content with where we are, but to keep growing. 

In today’s gospel, the crowds were looking for Jesus.  They were hungry for more of God’s word and for signs, and for anything else that Jesus could give them.  When they found him, what Jesus did give them was an invitation to believe in him, to trust him, to come to him.  He told them he was the bread of life and he alone could satisfy their every hunger and thirst.

Do we believe that today?  Do we believe that Jesus offers us the same invitation and the same assurances? There is much in our world, our Church, and our personal lives that might cause us to grumble and to lose faith.  Yet, in the midst of all of it, Jesus is with us and asks for our faith and trust. 

Even with Jesus with us, we will still be tested.  There will be more suffering and confusion to come, but we trust that Jesus will remain with us through it all. With God’s grace, we can resist the temptation to grumble and despair.  Instead, again with God’s help, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, listen to his words, and put our faith, weak as it might be, in him and him alone, for he is the bread of life.   

Sunday, July 15, 2018

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Twelve whom Jesus had called were the Lord’s disciples, meaning that Jesus was their teacher and they were His students.  In today’s gospel, they become apostles as well, meaning that they were those who were sent.  Jesus had work for them to do and so He sent them out with His authority to do what He had been doing.

In Baptism, we are joined to Jesus and become both the Lord’s disciples and apostles.  Each of us enters into a relationship with the Lord and learns both from Jesus and about Jesus.  We are also apostles, sent by the Lord to continue His work in our world.  At the end of every Mass, having been enlightened by God’s word and nourished with the Body of Christ, we are commanded to go forth, to continue the work of the Lord.

There are three lessons to learn from Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve that will help us to become better disciples and apostles.

Jesus sent the Twelve out “two by two.” The lesson there is that we need to work together – all of us – no one ought to be alone because no one can do it alone.  We all have different gifts and God needs all of them in order for the Church to do her work.  We ought to complement each other, to do what we can, and to let others do what they can.  The possibilities of serving Christ and His Church are many and there is a place for everyone to make a contribution. 

Jesus told the Twelve to take very little with them.  They were to travel light and to be content with where they found themselves.  The lesson there is that we need to trust God for everything.  When God has a work for us to do, God will supply our every need.  When we have many possessions, we run the risk of relying on them, rather than on the Lord.  St. Paul, one of the most powerful apostles in the history of the Church, assures the Ephesian Christians in today’s second reading that God has given us every spiritual gift.  We lack nothing if only we trust God to give it to us.

Jesus instructed the Twelve that they were to do what He had been doing: to preach repentance, to drive out demons and to heal the sick.   Those same works are needed today and they are not limited to the clergy.  When a person speaks to a family member or friend about the need to get a new way of thinking and living, it can be powerful and lead to serious change and growth.  There are so many ways to help others to be set free.  Again, these are but a few works that the Lord asks of all of us, His current apostles in the Church today.

Going to Church on Sunday and offering a prayer or two each day is not enough.  We need to have a relationship with the Lord so that we can hear what He asks of us.  Jesus will send us out to do what He did and to do what the Twelve did.  We will continue the work that has been done for centuries: preaching, helping others to become free and healed through the person of Jesus, alive and active in the Church today.

When we go forth and work together, trusting the Lord for everything, Jesus’ work continues and lives are saved.  We, disciples and apostles of Jesus, are called to this.  May we ask Him for direction and guidance and then beg the Lord for the grace and fortitude to carry it out.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The story in today’s gospel is a sad one.  Jesus has returned to Nazareth and the people there do not have faith in Him.  They have known Him since He was a boy.  They know His family.  They knew Him as the carpenter who worked with Joseph and then was especially solicitous of Mary, His mother, after Joseph’s death.  They had heard reports of His preaching and healing and deliverance ministry and His many followers, but they would not accept Him.  As a result, since they had no faith in Him, He could do little for them.

The same is true for us.  We need to have faith in Jesus.  We need to trust Him and have a relationship with Him in order for Him to be able to work in our lives.  If we don’t work to get to know Jesus through the Scriptures and prayer and especially in the sacraments, we are the same as those in Nazareth who knew Him, but did not believe or trust what He had to say or offer.  We need to have a personal relationship with Jesus based on an abiding trust in Him in order to have Him work in our lives.  The poor example of those from the Lord’s hometown reminds us not to make the same mistake.

We can also learn from the other mistake they made, especially in our dealings with others.  Those in Nazareth did not have faith in Him because they thought they knew Him.  That false sense of familiarity led to a lack of freedom they needed to get to know Him as the Christ, the Anointed of God.  He couldn’t be who He said He was because they mistakenly believed they already knew Him. 

Don’t we do the same thing at times when we presume to know someone and make a judgment based on what we see?  We judge people based on where they are from or what they look like or how they act, especially in our interactions with them.  We don’t take the time to get to know them in any real way because we have already made up our mind and too often we are wrong in our assessment. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt or put a good interpretation on what we see or hear.  We are too quick to dismiss others.  And like those in Nazareth who did that to Jesus, it is a loss for us. We ought to be open to others, especially to the possibility that there is more than what meets the eye.

A third lesson today’s Scriptures offer is from St. Paul who learned that God uses our weakness and will give us the grace we need to do God’s will, even in the suffering and struggle that comes from our weakness.  We don’t know exactly what Paul was struggling with, but the Lord’s message in response to his prayer was clear.  God would give the grace needed to do what had to be done, but the weakness would remain to show Paul that the strength was from the Lord and not himself.  Paul learned the hard way, which is often the best way, that when he was weak, God would give him strength.  He expressed the same sentiment later in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”  God works the same way in our lives as well.  Weakness can be a good thing when and if we are open to God’s strength, rather than thinking we can do it ourselves.

God’s word today assures us that we will be better disciples if we put our faith in Jesus and refuse to judge others, especially when we base such a judgment on our limited knowledge of others.  And learning that weakness is something God can use will help us to follow the Lord more faithfully as well.  Rather than disappoint the Lord as did those in Nazareth, we can give Him joy by our trusting Him, even we are weak.  When we have faith, the Lord will supply the grace. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus’ encounter with Jairus and the interruption from the woman who desperately wanted to be healed both teach us how we might approach Jesus in prayer.

We all have fears and while we try to avoid thinking about them, it is good to bring them to the Lord in prayer.  Jairus feared he was going to lose his daughter, so he sought out Jesus.  The sick woman feared she would never get better and so she, too, in a humble, but literal way, also reached out to Jesus.  We do well also to go to Jesus and speak to Him about our fears.

Jairus and the sick woman both had fears, but more importantly, they both had faith.  They trusted Jesus and believed that He could help them.  Jairus was desperate to have Jesus come into his home and touch his daughter.  The sick woman simply wanted to touch the cloak of Jesus, believing that would be enough, and she hoped not to bother Him as she did so.  The two of them remind us that we are not all the same and the ways we go to Jesus are different.  But the Lord is always there waiting for us.  What we need to bring are faith and trust in the Lord.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples, “I call you my friends” and He says the same to us.  We should not hesitate to go to the Lord with our fears or whatever else we need to share with Him.  Jesus is a friend who loves us intimately and infinitely.  Once we come to know the love He has for us and the burning desire He has for us to speak with Him, we look forward to being with Him in prayer. It is then our fears are healed, our faith is strengthened, and our friend Jesus never fails us.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Nativity of John the Baptist

The Church calendar celebrates only three birthdays: Jesus on December 25, Mary on September 8, and John the Baptist on June 24.  All three are immensely important in the story of our salvation, which is why we honor the day each of them were born with great joy and thanks to God.

John the Baptist was an amazing person. The story of his birth, as told by Luke, parallels that of Jesus.  There was an angel, and a name for the child given by God, and something of the miraculous since John was born to an elderly couple.  Clearly, this was a special child and there was great rejoicing, both at his birth and at the Visitation, when Mary and Elizabeth praised God for all that the Lord had done for them.

John was the great prophet who prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah.  He preached fearlessly, calling people to baptism and repentance from their sins.  When Jesus appeared, John was the one who pointed him out as the Lamb of God, and directed all to follow Jesus.  John’s life ended suddenly because he was faithful to his call to proclaim the truth, despite the price, even when speaking to the great men of his day.  Clearly, God had a plan for John’s life, and his life was marked by the humility of one who knew he was a servant of Someone greater.  John was filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled him to remain faithful from his time of preparation in the desert to his death in a jail cell.

Jesus said that no one born of woman was greater than John the Baptist, yet Jesus went on to say that the least in the Kingdom of God was greater than he.  John was the bridge between the Old Testament and the New.  His life was all about preparing for the coming of the Lord.  He baptized Jesus at the Jordan, yet John died before Jesus gave His life on the cross and John was not a witness to the Resurrection.  Nor was he in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit and he did not share in preaching the Good News to the world, as the apostles and other believers did.   

But each of us are witnesses to Jesus and are in the Kingdom of God.  In many ways then, we are more blessed than John was, or as Jesus said, we are greater than John, since we have been given a share in Christ.

We too, then, can believe that the Lord has a plan for our life.  Like John, we need to witness to the Lord in our actions and words.  We have to put God first and to live as a servant of Jesus with humility, as John did.  Humility is not weakness.  It is a strong, powerful virtue that comes from knowing who we are and who we are not.  We are not God.  We are not in charge of our lives.  We are servants.  We are children of God.  We are brothers and sisters of Jesus.  And like John, we need the Lord to increase, and we must decrease.  It is God’s will we seek, not our own. 

John lived a faithful, humble, powerful life because he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  We too have received the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and the Spirit is eager to come to our aid any time we ask.  When God asks much of us, the Lord always supplies what is needed through the gifts and fruits and working of the Holy Spirit within us.

It is John’s birthday we remember today, and rightly so.  But because of our place in the Kingdom, we know that what God did through and for John, God can do for us as well.  What we need is the willingness to be a faithful, fearless servant like John, living only for Jesus, giving all that God asks. May God grant each of us such blessings.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Kingdom of God is a great mystery, but it is all important.  We profess to desire its coming each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God and all things then will be given to us.  The Kingdom is not a place.  Instead it is all about God’s will and the importance of God’s will being done not just in heaven, but everywhere, including within each and every one of us, since Jesus as told us that the Kingdom of God is within us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, something very small and seemingly unimportant.  But when the tiny mustard seed is planted and grows, it is transformed into a strong, sturdy mustard bush.   Compared to the majestic cedar, the central image of Ezekiel’s prophecy, a mustard bush is without much merit.  A mustard bush is not much to look at and since they were plentiful, mustard bushes were not worthy of note.  But God likes small and unimportant, and when given permission, the Lord can do great things from something and someone seemingly insignificant.

When we seek to do God’s will, we further the Kingdom of God in our world and in our lives, often in small matters.  But that is enough for God, who is able to do so much more than we could ever imagine, whenever we give God permission.  Perhaps in looking back, we can see the hand of God at work, but most times, as St Paul says in today’s second reading, we walk by faith and not by sight.  We have to trust that when we say yes to whatever God asks in any situation, the Lord will take it from there and further God’s Kingdom in ways that remain invisible to our eyes.

God can do anything.  Nothing is impossible for God.  Yet, the Lord needs the humble cooperation of people like Mary of Nazareth and Simon Peter, like Teresa of Calcutta and Maximilian Kolbe, and like you and me.  When we seek to say yes to God in small things, we grow in virtue, opening up the possibility of the Lord trusting us later with bigger things.  Regardless, we know that God needs our willingness to plant either mustard seeds or shoots of cedar.

St Paul reminds himself and all of us that we will give an accounting to the Lord, the Judge of all, at the end of our lives.  We will receive recompense for all that we have done.  At that time, it will be asked, did we seek God’s will?  Did we do all that the Lord asked of us?  Were we faithful, and when we were not, did we trust in God’s mercy and begin again? 

Each of us individually, and all of us together, have to seek the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first in our lives.  That frees God to work and to accomplish all that God desires.  The Lord needs us.  May we seek the blessing of the Father, the mercy of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit each day of our lives, so that the Kingdom of God may grow both in our world and within us.