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.

17th Sunday (B)

The multiplication of the loaves and feeding five thousand is a familiar miracle story to all of us. The Gospel speaks about how Jesus responds to the human needs of the people, who were listening to him. A deeper look into the miracle story gives us very powerful insights. Once physical hungers are satisfied, then we are challenged to satisfy the deeper hungers, for love, mercy, forgiveness, companionship, peace and fulfillment. First of all it is Jesus, who takes the initiative and asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” The spontaneous reactions of the disciples are quite natural as they see it is impossible, because of the scarcity of food in the area and the finance involved in procuring it.

We have to take into account the roles of different people in this miracle.  We see Andrew the brother of Peter takes a more proactive step. He says to Jesus: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” It could also be in tune with the miracle of changing the water into wine witnessed by the disciples. The generosity of the boy is to be admired, because this young lad was willing to share the food he carried for himself. On the part of Christ, there are four steps: acceptance, blessing, breaking and distribution. Our generosity in giving selflessly is always been blessed, multiplied and fructified. The more we give the more we will receive. Luke’s Gospel 6,38 says: Give to others and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into our lap. That is the generosity of God.

St. Augustine reflects on this miracle that is meant to lead the human mind through visible things to the perception of the divine: “Christ did what God does. Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, so Christ multiplies the five loaves in his hands – for there is power in the hands of Christ. Those five loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast on the earth, but because they were multiplied, by the one who made the earth. This miracle was presented to our senses to stimulate our minds; it was put before our eyes in order to engage our understanding and so make us marvel at the God we do not see because of his works which we do see.”

“You give them something to eat.” The Gospel story teaches that Jesus meets the most basic human need of hunger, with generosity and compassion.  Today’s readings also tell us that God really cares about His people and that there is enough and more than enough for everybody.  Studies show that the world today produces enough food grains to provide every human being on the planet with 3,600 calories a day, not counting such foods as tuber crops, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, meats, and fish.  Over the past twenty-five years, food production has exceeded world population growth by about 16%. This means that there is no good reason for any human being in today’s world to go hungry.  But even in a rich country like U.S.A., one child out of five grows up in poverty, three million people are homeless and 4000 unborn babies are aborted every day.  “The problem in feeding the world’s hungry population, lies with our political lack of will, our economic system biased in favor of the affluent, our militarism, and our tendency to blame the victims of social tragedies such as famine.  We all share responsibility for the fact that populations are undernourished.  Therefore, it is necessary to arouse a sense of responsibility in individuals, especially among those more blessed with this world’s goods.” (Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961) 157-58).

We need to commit ourselves to share with others, and to work with God in communicating His compassion.  It is too easy to blame God, too easy to blame governments, too easy see these things as other people’s problems.  They are also our problems.  That is the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate here today.  In other words, as Christians we need to commit ourselves to share what we have with others, and to work with God in communicating his compassion to all.   God is a caring Father and He wants our co-operation to be part of His caring for all of us, His children.  That’s what the early Christians did, generously sharing what they had with the needy.  They were convinced that everything they needed to experience a fulfilling life was already there, in the gifts and talents of the people around them.  People of our time need to be encouraged to share, even when they think they have nothing to offer.  Whatever we offer through Jesus will have a life-giving effect in those who receive it.  We are shown two attitudes in the Gospel story: that of Philip and that of Andrew (John 6:7-9). Philip said, in effect:  “The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done.”  But Andrew’s attitude was: “I’ll see what I can do; and I will trust Jesus to do the rest.”  Let us have Andrew’s attitude.

God blesses those who share their talents, with loving commitment.  This is illustrated by St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), who went to serve the slum dwellers of Calcutta with just twenty cents in her pocket.  When she died forty-nine years later, God had turned those original twenty cents into eighty schools, three hundred mobile dispensaries, seventy leprosy clinics, thirty homes for the dying, thirty homes for abandoned children and forty thousand volunteers from all over the world to help her.  Let us offer ourselves and whatever we have to God saying, “Here is what I am and what I have Lord; use me; use it.”  And He will bless us and bless our offering, amplifying it beyond our expectations.  When we give what we have to God, and we ask Him to bless it, it is then the miracle happens.  We, too, can perform wonders in our own time and place, by practicing the four “Eucharistic verbs” of Jesus:  Take humbly and generously what God gives us, bless it by offering it to others in God’s love, break it off from our own needs and interests for the sake of others, give it away with joy-filled gratitude to God who has blessed us with so much. We are called by Christ to become the Eucharist we receive at this altar: giving thanks for what we have received by sharing those gifts — our talents, our riches, ourselves – to work our own miracles of creating communities of joyful faith

15th Sunday (B)

Today’s Gospel reading (Mk 6:7-13) is about the Lord who sends his disciples to continue the mission that he had inaugurated. The origin of the missionary vocation is Jesus who prepares the apostles for this important moment. It is Jesus who calls them personally; it is he who selects the Twelve to be his companions and to be sent out to preach with the power to cast out devils. Tutored by Jesus and present with him as he heals many from sickness and evil, the Twelve are sent out with tremendous power bestowed upon them. Mark narrates: “So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” The task of those sent by Jesus is to bring the healing balm of forgiveness to those wounded by the virulence of sin and to denounce evil wherever its presence is obvious, openly confronting it by appealing to the power of Christ.

 

A little village came under heavy artillery fire during the Korean War. There was a fine statue of Christ, mounted on a pedestal outside the Catholic Church, which was blown off into fragments. A group of Soldiers helped the priest to put the pieces together, but the hands were missing. So these words are written at the base of the statue “Friends, lend me your hands.” Today he needs our hands to raise the fallen. He has no feet but ours to seek out the lost. He has no ears but ours to listen to the lonely. He has no tongue but ours to speak words of sympathy, of comfort and of encouragement to those weighed down by sorrow, pain and failure.

The meaning of Jesus’ instructions: Why did Jesus send the Apostles in pairs? Because according to Jewish law, two witnesses were needed to pronounce a truth.  Going two by two carries with it the authority of official witnesses. It is clear from the instructions that his disciples should take no supplies for the road but simply trust in God for their requirements.  God, the Provider, would open the hearts of believers to take care of the needs of the disciples.   They should be walking examples of God’s love and providence.  By doing so, they would also have the maximum of freedom and the minimum of burdens in their preaching and healing ministry.  Jesus wanted his apostles to be rich in all the things, which really mattered, so that they might enrich those who came into contact with them.

Convey the Good News of God’s love and mercy: Jesus’ disciples were to preach the Good News that God is not a punishing judge, but rather a loving Father who wants to save men from their bondage to sin through Jesus His Son. The disciples were to preach the message of metanoia or repentance–which has disturbing implications.  To “repent” means to change one’s mind and then fit one’s actions to this change.  This is an invitation for a total and complete transformation from a self-centered life to a God-centered life.  It is also interesting to note that Jesus commanded his disciples to anoint with oil.  In the ancient world, oil was regarded as a sort of cure-all.  In the hands of Christ’s servants, however, the old cures would acquire a new virtue through the power of God.

We have a liberating mission: Although many people don’t believe in real demonic possession in our age, there are many demons, which can control the lives of people around us making them helpless slaves.  For example, there are the demons of nicotine, alcohol, gambling, pornography and promiscuous sex, materialism and consumerism, or of any other activity, which somehow can take control of people’s lives and become an addiction over which they have no control.  All of these, or any one of them, can turn people into slaves.  We need the help of Jesus to liberate us from these things.  Jesus is inviting us today to cooperate with him.  He wants us to be his instruments of liberation, to help others recover their freedom. We are meant to help people to cure their sicknesses – not only the bodily sicknesses but psychological and emotional illnesses as well.  As a family member, a friend, a colleague, an evangelizer, when we work with Jesus, we can truly have a healing influence.

We, too, have a witnessing mission: Each Christian is called not only to be a disciple but also to be an apostle.  As disciples, we are to follow Jesus and imitate Jesus.  As apostles, we are to evangelize the world.  We are called to share with others not just words, or ideas, or doctrines but an experience, our experience of God and His Son, Jesus.  Like the apostles, like St. Francis of Assisi, like St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), we are all chosen and sent to proclaim the Gospel through our living.  It is through our transparent Christian lives that we must show in our own actions the love, mercy and concern of Jesus for the people around us. Since we are baptized, Jesus is calling us in our working and living environment to evangelize, to invite people to know Jesus, to love him, to serve him and to follow him. An important part of evangelism is the simple act of inviting a friend or family member to join us in worship. This is where reconciliation between persons and God is most likely to take place. A simple invitation offered out of a loving and joyful heart is the most powerful evangelistic message of all. Remember the words of our second reading; the Father has “blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence.” (Eph. 1:3-5)

16th Sunday (B)

Abraham Lincoln is one of the well-known and admired Presidents of America. It is believed that he spent practically 75% of the time meeting and interacting with the people. No matter how busy or preoccupied his schedules were, he always found time for those who called on him. The focus of today’s Gospel (Mk 6:30-34) is the Lord Jesus who shepherds. He shepherds the weary disciples who return from their missionary ministry, reporting to him what they had done and taught. His care for his tired and labor-spent disciples is heart-warming: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). Indeed, the disciples-apostles who have completed their first mission of preaching repentance, driving away demons and anointing the sick need some quiet rest with their Master-Shepherd.

The Lord Jesus likewise shepherds the pursuing crowd who hunger for the bread of the Word. His response is beautifully described in the Gospel: “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them with many things” (Mk 6:34). Jesus accomplishes his pastoral care for them by teaching, that is, by nourishing their hungry souls with the bread of the Word. His service of teaching is a “nourishing ministry” and it is an important task in shepherding God’s people. He nourishes those who seek spiritual strength and solace by proclaiming the Gospel.

We see here an example of the kind of tension that exists in the life of every committed Christian. On the one hand, there is the need to draw away to a quiet place and to recharge one’s batteries, to reflect on and evaluate what one has been doing and to regenerate one’s spiritual energy. At the same time, there are constant demands on our commitment to serve. We need to respond generously and empathetically to where there is a real need. The emphasis is on ‘real need’ and not just on the demands of others or our own desire to be in demand. This calls for discernment: there will be times when, with difficulty, we know we should say ‘Yes’. There will be other times when, in spite of the criticism it may generate, we ought to say ‘No’. We need to be available but there is no absolute availability. We are limited in the quality service we can give.

There has to be an integration of contemplation and action, because the driving force derives from the communion with the Lord that we experience in our prayer life. In the life of the saints, there is the blending of nature and of grace, which helped them to have the right priorities to achieve their goal in life. Pope Francis in his encyclical Rejoice and be Glad speaks about holiness is living a life of love and being witness. He speaks about the extra mile that all of us need to make. At the middle of the night the doctor goes to the hospital to save one’s life. The teacher makes an effort to instruct the weaker student. The father finds ample time for his family after a day of hard work. The mother is at the side of a sick child constantly caring in spite of her daily duties. The employer is concerned about his employees. These are all the actions derived not because of duty but a ministry done for the love and glorification of God. The psalm 23 is a reflection of how the Lord involves in our lives.

The Lord is my Shepherd…that’s Relationship!

There is nothing I shall want…that’s Supply!

Fresh and Green are the pastures where He gives me repose…that’s Rest!

Near restful waters He leads me… that’s Refreshment.

He restores my drooping spirit… that’s Healing!

He guides me along the right path… that’s Guidance!

He is true to his name… that’s Purpose!

If I should walk in the valley of darkness… that’s Challenge!

No evil would I fear… that’s Assurance!

You are there … that’s Faithfulness!

With your rod and your staff comfort me… that’s Shelter!

 

You have prepared a table before me in the presence of mine enemies… that’s Hope!

You have anointed my head with oil… that’s consecration!

My cup is overflowing … that’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…that’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord…that’s Security!

Forever…that’s Eternity!

In the second reading (Eph. 2:13-18), we hear again of the redemptive and unifying work of Jesus. He brings peace and reconciliation and makes the Jews and Gentiles one people. He unites people of all races and brings them back to God through his paschal mystery, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the pastoral ministry to the people of Israel, and especially through his sacrificial act on the cross by which he accomplished the fullness of his service as Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ leads the dispersed flock back to God the Father. The life-giving sacrifice of the Good Shepherd on the cross is in accord with the divine plan “to restore all things”. Every Christian disciple, by virtue of baptismal consecration and configuration to Jesus Shepherd-King has a duty to seek peace and to work for reconciliation in our fragmented world.

14th Sunday (B)

Jesus is amazed at the rejection in his own native place of Nazareth

One of the most painful realities in our life is to be rejected, ignored, falsely accused and misunderstood in return for the good things we have accomplished. The whole life of Jesus is seen doing good for others, but it is very unfortunate that he was alienated, unappreciated and ridiculed. They could not grasp or imagine that God could dwell among them, so they started questioning his credibility.

The faithless response to God began with the first couple. Eve disbelieved God and believed the serpent instead and ate the fruit of the tree, which was forbidden. Sin entered into the world and as a result of sin death instead of immortality and banishment from the Garden of Eden. Sin continued to grow so much that the world was full of wickedness. Only one family was good, Noah’s family, and they were saved from the flood. We see the pain the rejection of God’s word caused him; in Gen 6:6 we read, “God regretted having made man on the earth and his heart grieved.” It was like a new creation after the flood but once again sin began to increase and eventually people’s pride led to disaster, this time they were divided into different languages after the tower of Babel. Unfortunately this faithless response to God continues right through the Old Testament. The great event of the Exodus was a liberating experience, to reaffirm their faith as the people left Egypt on dry ground where the sea had been. But no, when the first trial came they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. Then when they entered Canaan, the Promised Land, after a while they began to ask for a king over them. It was a lack of trust in God’s leadership of them. Again this brought a punishment because with only a few exceptions most of the kings of Israel were not good leaders and their country sank lower all the time. God continually called prophets to speak his word to them but unfortunately only a handful listened to his prophets. It is no wonder that in the first reading today God called the Israelites a set of rebels (Ezek. 2:5). God punishes them for their sins and they were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon for about 50 years.

That rejection of God’s word continues into the New Testament. The birth of the long awaited Messiah in a stable, because there was no room for him. Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt in order to save the childe from the fury of insecure Herod. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and it was natural that he should visit his hometown, as a rabbi with a band of his disciples. On the Sabbath day, he went to the local synagogue and any distinguished person, who had a message to give, might be asked by the ruler of the synagogue to speak. Since Jesus’ fame as a preacher and miracle worker in other places of Galilee had reached Nazareth, he was invited to read from the Prophets and explain the text. During his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of a miracle worker that people wished to see.  At the end of the reading he said that this scripture passage has been fulfilled in your midst.

The first reaction of the people in the synagogue to Jesus’ words was one of astonishment. Luke says they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” But Mark says that they asked one another: “Where did this man get all this? They knew him only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. Certainly, they thought he had gone far beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. Jesus’ neighbors did not expect him, “the carpenter’s son,” to be skilled in interpreting the Scriptures.  They also could not understand how a mere carpenter could be their political Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom of power and glory. The local townsfolk also objected that Jesus had no distinguished lineage. He is identified as “the son of Mary” (v. 3) rather than the traditional “son of Joseph” (“Bar Joseph”) title. Such a reference could be seen as an insult because men in that culture were identified by who their fathers were (see John 1:45).Jesus was amazed at the lack of response and responded: “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Those who accept the call of God and seek to follow Him may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.

Paul frankly admits the fact he had learned by trial and error, that he couldn’t preach the Gospel on the basis of his own strength and talent. Rather, the weaker he became, the more room he left for the Spirit of God to work through him. In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an exceptional revelation. In the other, he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed but was given instead the reassurance that God’s grace would be sufficient for his every need. He understood that suffering, accepted as God’s gift, produces patience, sensitivity and compassion and a genuine appreciation of life’s blessings. Hence, Paul declares that the weaknesses, which continue to mark his life as an apostle, represent the effective working of the power of the crucified Christ in his ministry.  Paul was content with weaknesses and hardships for the sake of Christ; we, too, find God’s grace sufficient for our needs, for Christ’s power dwells in us in our weakness, and in weakness we are truly strong.

13th Sunday (B)

Faith has the power to do the impossible

The Gospel of today is an unusual combination of two miracle stories; one is of healing and the other restoration of life.  The story of the woman with the flow of blood interrupts and is sandwiched in between the two parts of the account of Jairus and his daughter.  These miracles were worked by Jesus; as rewards for the trusting Faith of a synagogue ruler and of a woman with a hemorrhage.

The stories have several common features.  One woman is 12 years old, and the other has suffered for 12 years.  Both are called “daughter,” and both are in need of physical healing.  The girl’s father is encouraged to have Faith, and the older woman is praised for her Faith.  The two stories illustrate Jesus’ power over both chronic illness and death. In each healing, Jesus shows his marvelousgenerosity by giving the recipients life and salvation in addition to physical healing.

The faith-experiences of Jairus and the sick womanJairus: As the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was a well-respected man in the local Jewish community.  He was the administrative head of the synagogue, the president of the board of elders and the one responsible for the conduct of the services.  He probably shared in the Pharisees’ prejudice that Jesus was a heretic and a wandering preacher to be avoided.  If so, the urgency of his need and the helplessness of the situation prompted him to forget his position, to swallow his pride and prejudice and to seek help from Jesus the wandering wonder-worker. The woman with a hemorrhage: The account tells ofa woman who came to Jesus with expectant Faith as a last resort, after trying every other cure known in her day.  The Mosaic Law (Lv. 15:25-27) declared her unclean and shut her off from the worship of God and the fellowship of her friends.  That may be why she decided to try to touch the tassels of Jesus’ garment secretly.

The Faith that was rewarded: The woman’s boldness in touching Jesus’ garment and her Faith in the healing power of Jesus was so strong that she risked breaking all the social rules to seek what she believed He could do for her.  By affectionately calling her “daughter,” Jesus established a relationship with her and gave her the assurance that she was healed:   “Daughter, your Faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”  In addition, she gained a personal relationship with Jesus as a member of his family (3:35).  By trusting in the power of God and doing His will, she was not only physically cured but was also fully restored to a normal religious and social life.  It was her deep Faith in Jesus symbolized by her touching the tassel of his garment that was a major factor in her healing.

The Faith that brought back life from death:As Jesus sent the woman to her house; Jairus received the shocking news of the death of his daughter.  But Jesus insisted on going to Jairus’ house and consoled the father saying, “Do not be afraid; only have Faith.”  The phrase, “Do not be afraid,”appears in the Bible 366 times. The crowd told Jairus: “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?” (35). But Jesus assured the crowd: “The child is not dead but sleeping,” meaning that the girl’s death was only temporary, and she would wake up at his call.  Jesus took the parents of the little girl with only Peter, James and John into the room, took the child by the hand and said to her, “‘Talitha koum,’ which means,‘Little girl, get up!’”  Those who had laughed Jesus to scornmust have been greatly amazed when they realized Jesus’ power.

Jesus lauds people for putting their faith in him. When we put our faith in Jesus we are opening our hearts to his presence. Jesus does not force himself into our lives, but he comes when he is invited. Prayer is our invitation to God to enter into our lives. Jairus invited Jesus into his home, and Jesus entered and healed his daughter. Healing is a complex issue because we don’ know the mind of God. Why some people are healed and others are not is a mystery that calls on a deep faith to accept. Sometimes we are attracted to various forms or methods of healing, but the power of Jesus cannot be confined, channeled or controlled by these. His healing is a gift to us that seems to come when we open our hearts and invite him into these situations. We are called to have the faith to invite Jesus into our lives, and allow his will to be done.

 

It is not only sickness that can knock us down, but also emotionally and psychologically. We can be knocked down by the hurts others inflict on us and by what they say or do to us. To begin the healing of these types of knocks I would like to recall for you the motto chosen by the Catholic Church for the Jubilee 2000, “Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) No matter when you were hurt, remembering that today, yesterday and tomorrow are the same for Jesus, ask him to walk back in time with you to the day when you suffered a particular hurt or received the news of your illness.

Precious Lord, take my hand Lead me on, let me standI’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone

Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near

When my light is almost gone Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Birth of John the Baptist.

Birth of John the Baptist

Today we are celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke tells us the angel Gabriel announced his birth to his father Zechariah and gave him the name John, which means “God is gracious.” (Luke 1:8-23) Even while still in his mother’s womb he recognized the presence of Jesus by leaping when Mary visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:41). It is the moment when John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin. The angel Gabriel had previously promised Zechariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb (Luke 1:15), and this promise was fulfilled when he was cleansed of original sin when Mary visited his mother Elizabeth. “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn their hearts to toward their children and the disobedient to the understanding of righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

True to his call the Gospels present John as a wild desert preacher dressed in leather-belted camel skin and eating locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and a coming judgment and challenged people to accept baptism as a sign of their repentance for their sins. He took up Isaiah’s cry, “A voice of the one crying in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”(Lk.3, 4-6)

His ministry resembled that of the prophets in that he disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. We see his disapproval when he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance and do not presume to tell yourselves we have Abraham as our father.” (Luke 3:7-8) His message had positive response from various categories of people. Tax collectors asked him what they must do and he replied, “Exact no more than the appointed rate.” (Luke 3:13) Soldiers also repented, and his advice to them was “No intimidation! No Extortion! Be content with your pay!” (Luke 3:14) His message spread far and wide. Mark says all Jerusalem and Judea made their way to him and as they were baptized in the Jordan they confessed their sins (Mark 1:5).

John’s humility is remarkable in his declaration that his ministry was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”(Mark 1:8) When Jesus came to John asking for baptism, John recognized Jesus at once and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”(John 1:29) These words have found their way into the prayer of Mass; when the priest holds up the Sacred Host as we prepare for Holy Communion. When Jesus began his public ministry an expectation had developed among the Jews that the prophet Elijah would return to earth once again to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.  Jesus himself said that John was that Elijah type person they were expecting (Mark 9:13) and Jesus complimented John in the superlative saying, “among those born of women no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).  After Jesus’ baptism once again we see John turning the attention to Jesus as he declared, “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

John died a martyr’s death because, with the prophetic courage of his convictions, he criticized his immoral King, Herod Antipas, for that King’s double violation of the Mosaic Law: Herod had divorced his lawful wife and married his brother Philip’s wife Herodias, Herod’s own niece. This is a reminder to us that not everything that is allowed by law is morally right, e.g. divorce and abortion.  Herod had John arrested and put in prison. John stood up for the truth and unfortunately like many who stand up for the truth today he had to pay a price. John’s courage in upholding the dignity of marriage and condemning the adulterous relationship of Herod and Herodias was to result in his death by beheading in prison.

St. Thomas More had the courage to speak the truth and was ready to lay down his life for it. When no offspring resulted from the marriage of Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Aragón, Henry divorced her and married Anne Boleyn so that there would be heirs to the throne. Parliament passed a law forcing clergy to acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the Church. Shortly afterwards Thomas More resigned his post as Lord Chancellor. He was aware that just because something is lawful does not mean it is morally right. On April 14th 1534 he was summoned to Lambeth and asked to take the oath, which he refused and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.  He was beheaded on July 6th 1535. His final words were, “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

John’s courage in upholding the truth about marriage, and his subsequent beheading as a result, challenges us in a time when it is not popular to speak the truth or live by the truth. Both he and St. Thomas More remind us that just because certain behavior is enshrined in the law of the land does not mean that is morally right. John turning attention away from himself towards Jesus reminds us to do the same also in our lives. In each of us, we ourselves are to decrease and Jesus is to increase.

11th Sunday (B)

The Kingdom of Godfor Pharisees was attained by the exact observance of the Mosaic Law. The Zealots saw the Kingdom as a political state established by force of arms with God as supreme ruler. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God as God’s rule in human lives begun here on earth and completed in Heaven. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of is not the afterlife but an expression of how God wants the world to be and live. Jesus’ “Kingdom parables” in today’s Gospel point to the Kingdom as a Divine act rather than a human accomplishment. They call on man to be patient with the delay of the Kingdom in coming. They are called “Kingdom parables” because they announce, “the Kingdom of God is like . . .”

The parable of the growing seed(verses 26-29) tells about a farmer who scatters seed in his field. While he sleeps at night and is up and about during the day, all the while the seed sprouts and grows. The farmer does not know how it happens, but the growing seed yields ripe grain for harvest. In this parable, Jesus underlines the inevitable growth of the kingdom of God. The kingdom has already irrupted into the world in Jesus’ ministry. Just as the scattered seed leads mysteriously to harvest, the heavenly kingdom has an irresistible power to grow and reach its full destiny. The kingdom grows because of the God-driven principle that powers its growth and maturation.

The second parable (verses 30-34) is about the mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world. Planted in the ground, it grows and becomes the biggest of all plants. Birds come and make their nests in its shady branches. In this parable, Jesus contrasts the insignificant beginning of the extremely small seed and the enormous size of the full-grown bush. The image of a tiny mustard seed growing into the grandiose bush underlines the universal expanse of God’s kingdom that would encompass all nations, as well as Israel.

Mysterious but steady growth of the Kingdom of God: Jesus explains that the kingdom of God grows this way in human souls. The Kingdom of God is the growth of God’s rule in human hearts that occurs when man does the will of God and surrenders his life to God. The seed of Faith lies dormant within each of us. When we permit him to nurture it with tender loving care, it grows miraculously into gigantic proportions. The growth is slow and microscopic in the beginning. But this seed grows by using the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us through the word of God, the Mass, the Sacraments and prayer. Finally, God’s rule in the human heart transforms individuals and communities into God’s people doing His will in His kingdom.

In Isaiah 55: 11 God says, “So shall my Word be that goes forth out of my mouth and not return to me void.” That word void means empty or ineffective. Let’s use the word empty and unproductive. “And not return to me empty or unproductive, but it will accomplish that which I please and prosper into wherein I send it.”

Jesus sowed his seed in our hearts, and then off he went, like the farmer in the story, like all the farmers all over the world. Of course, he knew things would not be ideal. There were birds and the droughts, the weeds and insects. But there was also the power of the seed itself, maturing and growing in humanity, a divine power showing its force all the time. The reign of God will grow to its fullness, despite all obstacles. Those who accept Jesus as their God and Savior will accept his rule in all areas of their lives, with the help of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them.

God did not give His Word to us for it to be inactive in our lives. He gave His Word to us so that it could produce in us. What does it produces? It produces the Kingdom of God. Some people say we are just going to leave everything up to God. That’s not how God works. God has put it in our hands. The seed of the kingdom is growing in you and you are becoming a part of the growth of the kingdom. If not you must be asleep. It is not you who should be asleep. He has placed his seed in us and went away, knowing that one day we, you and me would find that seed growing in us through all the weeds, all the droughts and all the dangers. We would be like a tree that is planted by the water streams, yielding its fruits in season, its leaves never fading (Ps 1:3)

James, the epistle writer, wasn’t a farmer.  But he knew the power of a seed sown in fertile soil. “Those who are peacemakers,” he said, “will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness” (James 3:18). The outcome is sure. All that  God requires of us is that we sow seeds of New Life, namely of faith, of justice, of compassion and love in order to make this world  a better place to live. Having done this, we must wait, because we cannot force the seed to become a shrub. We can only provide the right conditions for growth. But God in his own time will definitely see to it that selfishness surrenders to sharing, evil gives way to goodness and hate yields to love. If we have patience and hope, eventually the harvest of what we have planted will make its appearance: nations will be reconciled, human rights restored, the vulnerable innocents will be protected, the unwanted are cared for and the hungry given food. We may not see these results in our own lifetime, but the next generations will.

10th Sunday (B)

The well-loved carpenter turned crazy preacher:Jesus constantly reminded us that sin and evil must be confronted at the root whether it is in ourselves, others or in our enemies.   The first part of today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus’ relatives and fellow-villagers wrongly judged him as out of his mind and consequently tried to take him by force back to Nazareth to do his safe and secure job as a good carpenter. That is why Jesus remarked, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36). There were four reasons why Jesus’ people thought he was mad and attempted to dissuade him from his preaching and healing mission. First, Jesus had abandoned his safe and secure job as a much-needed village carpenter with steady income to become a wandering preacher with no residence or steady income. Second, Jesus had chosen a band of fishermen with no political or social influence, a hated tax collector and a fanatic zealot as his disciples. Third, Jesus had begun to criticize the power lobby – the scribes and Pharisees – in the Jewish religious headquarters, Jerusalem, labeling them hypocrites. Jesus’ relatives might really have been afraid that Jesus would be arrested, and they would be persecuted with him for criticizing those in power.  Fourth, Jesus had silently claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah and had worked miracles to support his claim.

The Sanhedrin slander refuted: The second part of today’s Gospel passage gives Jesus’ crushing reply to the slander propagated by the observers sent from the Sanhedrin, that Jesus expelled devils using the assistance of the leader of devils. Jesus refutes the false allegation raised against him by the Sanhedrin scribes with three counter-arguments and a warning:

1) A house divided against itself will perish, and a country engaged in civil war will be ruined. Hence, Satan will not fight against Satan by helping Jesus to expel his coworkers. 2) If Jesus is collaborating with Satan to exorcise minor demons, then the Jewish exorcists are doing the same.  3) Jesus claims that he is using the power of his Heavenly Father to evict devils just as a strong man guards a house and its possessions from the thief.  4) Finally, Jesus gives a crushing blow to his accusers, warning them that by telling blatant lies they are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and, hence, their sins are unforgivable.

That battle and interior conflict has been around since Adam and Eve separated themselves from God and hid amongst the trees of the garden. It is seen in Israel wanting a king so it can be like all the other nations; forgetting that it has a unique calling, that it is to be different from other nations, that it is through Israel, the people of God, that God will act for the benefit of all people. This division and inner conflict is a reality of today’s world and our lives. A marriage divided is a divorce. A nation divided results in vitriolic politics and in the extreme, civil war. An economy divided yields poverty and injustice. A community divided becomes individualism and tribalism, prejudice and violence. Humanity divided is all these things on a global level. Faith divided is sin.

Jesus always stands before us as the image of unity, wholeness, integration. He is the stronger one. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He puts our lives and houses back in order. Jesus offers a different image of what life might look like. He does so by revealing the division in our lives, the houses that cannot stand, and the crumbling of our kingdoms. There are all sorts of forces, things, events, sometimes even people by which our lives are broken and through which we are separated from God, others, and our self. Christ is stronger than anything that fragments our lives. He binds the forces that divide, heals the wounds that separate, and refashions pieces into a new whole. There is nothing about your life or my life that cannot be put back together by the love God in Christ.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?”  As Jesus became a strong critic of the Jewish religious authorities, his mother and cousins came to take him to Nazareth by force, perhaps because they feared that Jesus would be arrested and put to death.   Today’s Gospel episode seems to suggest that Jesus ignored the request of his mother and close relatives who had traveled a long distance to talk to him. But everyone in the audience knew that Jesus loved his mother and had taken care of her for thirty years. Besides, Jesus’ plain answer, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” was actually a compliment to his mother who had always listened to the word of God and obeyed it. Jesus was declaring, “Blessed are those who hear and keep the word of God as she is faithfully doing” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 58).   Jesus was also using the occasion to teach the congregation a new lesson about their relationship with God. Being a disciple of Jesus, or a Christian, is first and foremost a relationship – a relationship of love and unity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with all who belong to God as His children.  Jesus has changed the order of relationships and shows us here that true kinship is not just a matter of flesh and blood.  God’s gracious gift to us is His adoption of us as His sons and daughters.  This gift enables us to recognize all those who belong to Christ as our brothers and sisters.  Our adoption as sons and daughters of God transforms all our relationships and requires a new order of loyalty to God and His kingdom.  “Everyone who does the will of the Father, that is to say, who obeys Him, is a brother or sister of Christ, because he is like Him who fulfilled the will of His Father.  But he who not only obeys but converts others, begets Christ in them, and thus becomes like the Mother of Christ”