21st Sun. (B)

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

The main theme of today’s readings is that Christian life is a series of daily choices for God or against God, as we choose to live out or reject the truths He has revealed through His prophets in the Old Testament and especially through His Son Jesus in the New Testament. They remind us that the fundamental choice that we make determines how we live our lives. Joshua, in our first reading, and Paul, in the second reading, make similar challenges to the people to make their choice.  Today we, too, are challenged to decide whom we will serve. In the first reading Joshua challenges the Israelites to decide whom they will serve, the gods of their fathers, the gods of the Amorites in whose country they are now dwelling or the God of Israelites Who has done so much for them. The Renewal of Covenant ceremony in Joshua 24 reminds us that the Eucharist is a Covenant meal that calls for a decision of Faith.

The Gospel (Jn. 6:60-69) highlights the fundamental option and core decision of the disciples, either to break away from Christ or to reinforce their commitment to him. This passage brings the sixth chapter of John’s gospel to a climactic conclusion after having fed the crowd by multiplying the bread and the fish and made a series of unique claims:1) “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”  2)”I am the bread of life.”  3) “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 4) “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” 5)“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  6)“I will raise him on the last day.” 7) “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.” 8) The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. In short, Christ Jesus reveals himself as God and as the “breadof life from heaven” sent by the Father for our salvation.

Now upon completion of his teaching, many of his followers murmured, saying, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Jesus responds that human nature alone (the “flesh”) is of no avail in coming to believe and to have life in him. This faith and life is possible only as a gift of the Father. After the exchange in the synagogue, many of his disciples left him. Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Faith and life in Jesus is a gift beyond human expectation and understanding. This is the implication not only of this passage but also of John’s entire gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The gift of eternal life is NOW; it does not begin after we die. In faith we can live without fear: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side” (Ps. 23:4). The saints of every age witness to the reality that faith is participation in the joy, the prayer, the gratitude of Christ’s life now: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess. 5:16-18).

At the same time, we have to make a difference between the earthly life and the eternal life. This earthly life that we are living is a preparation for our eternal life. We have the famous words of St. Augustine: “Lord has created us for himself and we cannot rest until we rest in him.” There is a deep earning desire in our life to be in union with the divine. Psalms 62 and 42 are clear testimonies expressing the desire and the longings of the psalmist.

Looking into our life there are two dimensions; the interior and the exterior. The former is concerned with our inner self, our dispositions and the attitudes, whereas the latter is the outer self, the expressions and all what we do. These two dimensions are correlated and it is said that our ideas become the words; words become the actions; actions become the attitudes; attitudes become our character and the character becomes our destiny.

The individual’s transformation is the result of an encounter with Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. It can take place only when we accept, assimilate the entire person of Jesus into our lives. His spirit will regenerate our soul and body with power and energy, which can make difference in our lives. Zacchaeus experiences a conversion after Jesus encountered him in his house. Similarly Mary Magdalene too experiences a conversion after experiencing the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus in her life.  Jesus gave sight to the blind man and he became his follower praising and thanking God for the gift of sight.

The gospel passage alerts us to the fact that faith is not primarily assent to a creed about God but a personal relationship with God. Like friendship, faith is mutual self-giving; it can become stronger or become weaker; it can begin and it can end. The attitude that summarizes the words of Peter is to stand before the Holy Sacrament in humble and silent adoration, cultivating in the heart not the doubt, but the desire of full communion with him.

19th Sunday (B)

I am the living bread came down from heaven. There is no bread here on earth that gives immortality. This is why Christ has descended from Heaven to satisfy the hunger for Heaven. Christ is the extraordinary bread that satisfies the extraordinary and immense hunger of the man who is capable, even eager, to be open to infinite aspirations (Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 1, 1).

On Holy Thursday 2003 Saint John Paul II published an Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which says the Eucharist is at the center of the Church (§3). The Church was born at Pentecost but a decisive moment in the shaping of the Church was the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room during the Last Supper (§5). What more could Jesus have done for us? In the Eucharist Jesus shows a love, which goes to the end and knows no measure (§11). Our relationship with Christ begins at baptism and is strengthened by the Eucharist (§22). Whenever Mass is celebrated we are led back in spirit to Calvary (§4). The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to it or multiply it but makes Christ’s sacrifice present in time. The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice (§12). The consecration at Mass changes the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ and the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood and the Church calls this change transubstantiation (§15).

Jesus makes a series of unique claimsin today’s gospel passage: 1) “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”  2)”I am the bread of life.”  3) “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 4)“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  5)“I will raise him on the last day.” 6) “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.”  In short, Christ Jesus reveals himself as God and as the “breadof life from heaven” sent by the Father for our salvation.

People could hardly graspthe importance of this profound teaching, when Jesus claimed to be the “bread of life” (v. 35) who “came down from heaven” (v. 38).  They knew his father and mother (v. 42), and thought of him as just another hometown boy – a carpenter by profession without any formal training in Mosaic Laws and Jewish Scriptures.  They could remember when he had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum with a band of unknown disciples, mostly fishermen.

Jesus knew that the Jews were upsetabout his explanation that the multiplication of bread and fish signified that he himself was the heavenly bread that gives eternal life. Jesus challenged the Jews to take a journey of faith by seeing him, not as the son of Joseph, but as the one who came down from heaven. Saying, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”Jesus told his listeners, and tells us, that everyone who has become his follower has done so because God the Father has called him or her to Jesus.  It is an act of God that has brought us to follow the way of Jesus.  Faith is a gift.  To follow Jesus is to live by faith; to believe means to make those necessary changes to one’s lifestyle that being a believer demands.  Then Jesus offered the ultimate reassurance to every one of us who believes: “I will raise him up on the last day” (cf. vv.39, 40, 44, 54). This persistent theme serves to remind the reader/listener that only Jesus, the true bread of life, can impart the gift of eternal life to the faithful.

Faith in practice: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Here Jesus clarifies that listening to God, and learning from God are key factors in our seeking Jesus and in our growing into strong believers and faithful servants of Jesus.  The Good News is that God is willing to be present in our midst and to teach us.  Jesus asserts this point quoting scripture, “And they shall be taught by God.”

The bread from heaven is also the word of God: In the Bible, bread appears several times as an image of wisdom, or divine revelation:Isaiahsays “You who have no money, come, receive bread and eat”(55:1-3); Proverbsstates that all should “Come, eat of my bread”(9:1-6), and Sirachsays, “Whoever fears the Lord and holds to the law will obtain wisdom… She will feed him with the bread of learning.”(15:1-3).  Thisshould make a lot of sense to us, because we read books and watch movies and television to learn about life (hopefully) and to increase our knowledge.  In the same way, we need to read, reflect and pray over the Word of God privately so that it can nourish our souls and be our true “soul food”.

We need to appreciate God’s love for usexpressed in the Holy Eucharist. Saint John Paul II taught: “The Eucharist is the sacrament of the presence of Christ, who gives himself to us because he loves us.  To celebrate the Eucharist, “to eat his flesh and drink his blood”, means to accept the wisdom of the Cross and the path of service.  It means that we signal our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others, as Christ has done.”

We eat that bread by absorbing into ourselves the spirit, the truth and integrity, the love and compassion, the generosity and peacefulness of Jesus.  And how do we know we have truly eaten this bread? By the kind of people we become, by the ways in which we behave. The Second Reading (from Ephesians) gives a few examples: not having grudges against others; not losing our temper and shouting at people; not calling people names; not acting spitefully and getting our own back; being friendly, approachable, kind, forgiving, especially to strangers and outsiders.  Yes, today, let us taste and see and experience how good the Lord is. Let him be the primary food and nourishment of our lives.

 

18th Sunday (B)

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Today’s readings challenge us to trust in the providence of a loving and caring God and to hunger and thirst for the Bread of eternal life – the Holy Eucharist.  As human beings, we hunger for many things besides food and material possessions. We live in a culture that is governed by wantsand unfortunately they are unlimited. These craving desires for more and more are only intensified by countless advertising campaigns and the belief that the only things worth having are those that are new and novel. Pope Francis in his general audience on August 1, 2018 emphasizes the human craving for power, wealth, position and other material things, which are idols that enslave our life. We hunger to be recognized and honored, to love and be loved, to be listened to and to be appreciated, to help, console and encourage people and receive gratitude.  But only God can satisfy our various forms of spiritual hunger.  St. Augustine said: “O God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”

MYSTIC OR UNBELIEVER: Karl Rahner, one of the famous German theologians of twentieth century, made the statement that there would soon come a time when each of us will either be a mystic or a non-believer. What’s implied here? At one level it means that anyone who wants to have faith today will need to be much more inner-directed than in previous generations. Why? It is because of the changes that have come to our present generation in the secularized world. There was a time when the culture helped to carry the faith. We lived in cultures (often immigrant and ethnic subcultures) within which faith and religion were part of the very fabric of life. Faith and church were embedded in the sociology. It took a strong, deviant action not to go to church on Sunday. Today, as we know, the opposite if more true, it takes a strong, inner-anchored act to go to church on Sunday. We live in a moral and ecclesial diaspora and experience a special loneliness that comes with that. We have few outside supports for our faith.

The culture no longer carries the faith and the church. Simply put, we knew how to be believers and church-goers when we were inside communities that helped carry that for us, communities within which most everyone seemed to believe, most everyone went to church, and most everyone had the same set of moral values. Not incidentally, these communities were often immigrant, poor, under-educated, and culturally marginalized. In that type of setting, faith and church work more easily. Why? Because, among other reasons, as Jesus said, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

To be committed believers today, to have faith truly inform our lives, requires finding an inner anchor beyond the support and security we find in being part of the cognitive majority wherein we have the comfort of knowing that, since everyone else is doing this, it probably makes sense. Many of us now live in situations where to believe in God and church is to find ourselves without the support of the majority and at times without the support even of those closest to us, spouse, family, friends, colleagues. That’s one of the things that Rahner is referring to when he says we will be either mystics or non-believers.

But what is this deep, inner-anchor that is needed to sustain us? What can give us the support we need? What can help sustain our faith when we feel like unanimity-minus-one is an inner center of strength, meaning, and affectivity that is rooted in something beyond what the world thinks and what the majority are doing on any given day? There has to be a deeper source than outside affirmation to give us meaning, justification, and energy to continue to do what faith asks of us. What is that source?

In the gospel of John, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth are a question: “What are you looking for?” Essentially everything that Jesus does and teaches in the rest of Johns gospel gives an answer to that question: We are looking for the way, the truth, the life, living water to quench our thirst, bread from heaven to satiate our hunger. But those answers are partially abstract. At the end of the gospel, all of this is crystallized into one image:

On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdala goes out searching for Jesus. She finds him in a garden (the archetypal place where lovers meet) but she doesn’t recognize him. Jesus turns to her and, repeating the question with which the gospel began, asks her:What are you looking for?Mary replies that she is looking for the body of the dead Jesus and could he give her any information as to where that body is. And Jesus simply says: “Mary.” He pronounces her name in love. She falls at his feet. In essence, that is the whole gospel: What are we ultimately looking for? What is the end of all desire? What drives us out into gardens to search for love?The desire is to hear God pronounce our names in love.

Gospel passage when he says to the crowds, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”No amount of money, power, influence, or material goods can ever bring true satisfaction and fulfillment. However much we might have in life, those fundamental desires that are deep within us will never be satisfied without the love of God and the care and support of a community.  As Pope Benedict XVI reminded the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007, Every Eucharist is a personal encounter with Christ. Listening to God’s word, our hearts burn because it is he who is explaining and proclaiming it. When we break the bread at the Eucharist, it is he whom we receive person.