Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Two deacons had taken a week’s vacation to a cottage in a remote area on a small lake to spend some time away, to go fishing and enjoy nature. They had been to the same place for years and knew the area very well.  A new pastor had recently been assigned to their parish, so to be hospitable and welcoming, they decided to invite him to come along.  Early on the first morning, they went out in a small boat to fish, near the cottage.  The two deacons fished out one side of the boat and kept catching fish.  The pastor fished out the other side and caught nothing. It seemed his line wasn’t going to the depth of the deacons.  As the sun began to rise in the sky, one deacon said he was thirsty and asked if anyone else wanted something to drink; both the other deacon and the pastor said, ‘yes’ so the deacon put down his fishing rod, stood up, stepped out the back of the boat, walked across the water to the shore, went into the cottage, came back out with three bottles in his hands, walked across the water and got back into the boat.  He handed out bottles of cold lemonade.  The pastor was astounded, but said nothing.  

A few minutes later, the other deacon said, ‘I’m hungry.  Anyone else?’ The pastor and other deacon nodded, so the second deacon stood up, stepped out the back of the boat, walked across the water to the cottage, came back out with some bread and cheese, walked back across the water, got into the boat and handed out the food.  The other deacon seemed to take this all in stride, but again the pastor was amazed and shocked.  He thought to himself, ‘if these deacons have this much faith that they can walk on water and catch all these fish, surely I as a pastor should be able to do the same.’  The pastor said to the deacons, ‘I think I will go get a cookie.  Anyone else want one?’  The deacons nodded.  So the pastor stood up, stepped off the side of the boat, and immediately disappeared into the water.  The two deacons reached in to pull him out of the water and back into the boat; one turned to the other and said, ‘Instead of letting him figure it out, maybe we should show him where the rocks are?’

            Today’s gospel from St. John recounts Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  A huge crowd has gathered because they have witnessed his miraculous healing of the sick; the signs he has performed, the work he has done, has drawn them to follow him, setting aside everything in the moment – even their personal needs.  When Jesus is prepared to sit and teach his disciples, his closest followers, he sees this huge crowd which is following them. And although John tells us, Jesus knew what he was going to do, he tests his followers by asking where they will buy bread for these people.  His disciples push back, saying it would cost too much to feed this crowd, and although a boy is there with five loaves of bread a two small fish, their reading of the situation tells them that’s not enough.  Other gospel accounts indicate the disciples tell Jesus to ‘send them away’ so they can find their own food. 

In other words, this multitude, hungry not just for food, but to see and hear and be near to Jesus has become somewhat of a burden to them.  ‘Send them away Lord.  We can’t care for them all.  We don’t have the resources.  We don’t have the ability.’

Now a disciple is more than just a follower.  A disciple is more than a student.  A disciple is one who desires deeply to become just like their Master.  Jesus has repeatedly taught his disciples up to this point, that to be like Him, they must follow what God has revealed to them throughout salvation history; that they are to love God with their whole being, and love their neighbour as themselves; that they are to observe the Law -but that the heart of the law is mercy and compassion –   that justice for some is not justice at all – and that God’s grace is overflowing in its abundance for those who trust in Him.

So rather than simply telling them this again, Jesus works a sign, revealing once again his power and his divine nature.  He feeds the crowd, and allows the disciples to participate in this particular miracle by having them distribute this seemingly endless supply of food; and has them gather up the fragments after so nothing is lost or wasted.  He doesn’t simply let the crowd ‘figure out for themselves’ how to be fed or to satisfy their needs.  He tells his disciples to participate, he gives them direction, and in that, shows them how they are to serve their brothers and sisters – those in their own communities and those who are complete strangers to them.

In much the same way, as His disciples, we are called no only to follow our faith and our teachings; we are to have a ‘hands on’ approach to the actual working amongst the poor, and through a living witness to bring them to an understanding that Christ is in their midst as surely today as He was physically in Galilee two millennia ago. We may not feel we have the gifts, the resources, the abilities to serve the poor in our midst – whether it be a material, a social or a spiritual poverty;  but like his disciples, we can’t simply say a few prayers and by our inaction say ‘Lord send them away’ to look after or fend for themselves.  We don’t leave them to ‘figure it out on their own’, or simply say, ‘Lord fix this’ without becoming part of the solution.

We are to help them, to feed and support them, to assist them in finding their way to Christ – and if we truly desire to be His disciples and are open to His grace, then we will be given the gifts necessary to fulfill that mission; certainly not on our own, but as a family, as a church, as disciples of Jesus. 

We can show them where those ‘stepping stones’ are to lead them to Christ; in doing so, we will also be walking more closely in the steps of our Lord and Master.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

When we entered into life as adopted sons and daughters of God, at baptism, we also entered into a sharing in Christ’s ministry on earth;  as we hear in the words of the rite, we share in Christ’s role as priest, prophet and king – the role of king because those who remain in Him as brothers and sisters are heirs to God’s kingdom along with Him….the common role of priest because we join with Christ in making our entire lives an offering to God in gratitude for all that He continues to give us;  But it’s the role of prophet that I’d like to dwell on today

The word prophet means someone who speaks on behalf of, or in place of someone; the Old Testament prophets then, spoke on behalf of God, and acted as the interpreter of God’s message to his people.  They came from varied backgrounds, social classes and professions or trades. They were called by God, and in this special relationship as his servants, they were conscious of their divine mission, and were fully convinced of the truth of their words; they never claimed personal ownership of their message, but would always give credit to God…normally beginning their messages with ‘The Lord God says,’ or  ‘Thus says the Lord’

Although popular culture has somewhat twisted the word prophet to equal someone who foretells the future, the prophecy of future events was only a small part of what true prophets of God did; there was much more to being a true prophet, such as heralding the coming of the Messiah.  Some became advisors to kings. They defended the poor, widows and orphans – in other words, the marginalized or those living on the fringes of society and forgotten at times by the rest of their culture.

But without exception, they reminded the people to fulfill their obligations to God, to continue to follow the means that God had directly given to them to draw closer in relationship with Himself. And although we revere the prophets today, we need to remember their messages were rarely popular in the midst of their own people, in their own time.  Most often, the messages were counter-cultural; they were messages of turning away from centering on self and turning towards God; in other words, they were messages of repentance; but in delivering this message of mercy, the prophets were despised, attacked, rejected and in some cases, killed.

Our first reading is from the book of Amos; Amos lived almost eight hundred years before Christ; he was a shepherd and a gardener – a labourer; and his prophecies were directed at the kingdom of Israel and the surrounding area who were enjoying a period of great prosperity; however in their prosperity, they had turned from devotion to God and were starting to spend their time in devotion to pagan idols and in self-indulgence – they no longer lived in generosity of spirit towards the poor and marginalized, but had grown into a society of injustice and greed; 

Sound familiar?

Amos railed against this behaviour and reminded the people of their obligations to God and to others; he warned them that this ‘bubble’ of prosperity and self indulgence would burst; that this ‘trend’ would lead to the loss of their kingdom and all they held dear and eventual enslavement and captivity – he would be proven right in events almost a hundred years later when Palestine was overrun by the Babylonians and the Israelites were led away in captivity – a period called the Exile; 

The call to repentance was from God – an act of mercy – a warning to keep His children close to Him – this call was delivered by Amos; and how was this act of mercy repaid?  Amos was driven from the royal sanctuary at the shrine in Bethel by the priest Amaziah who was in charge of the shrine. “Off with you to the land of Judah and earn your bread by prophesying…”

There seems to be a continuous cycle in human history and behaviour of how God’s message is received.  In today’s Gospel from St. Mark we read of the sending out of the 12 apostles by Jesus to preach to the surrounding area the message of repentance – of entering into right relationship with God; the apostles are also given the authority to heal the sick and cast out demons – in other words, they are commissioned and sent forth by God Himself in the person of Jesus to deliver a message of correction and to bring healing and compassion to the sick and marginalized.

Jesus never promised it would be easy – in fact when he told the apostles to ‘shake the dust’ from their feet when someone refused to accept their teaching, he was telling them that not everyone would be receptive to the Gospel; but He sent them out nonetheless because the message of repentance and healing was that important –he was telling them, and us, to try anyway; that the message of salvation must be passed on to others because that’s what God expects and calls each of us to do; to be his ambassadors in bringing others closer to Him.  He was telling them and us, that not only is our own calling to holiness- to right relationship with God-  but our calling is also to bring others into that relationship. 

Sometimes the tendency is to look at the example of the apostles and feel intimidated or inadequate, or to even use that as an excuse to say “oh I could never do that,”; that somehow we just can’t be prophets or ambassadors for Christ.

Sometimes we can take passages of the Sacred Scriptures and read them in isolation from the rest of the book the passages are taken from…to take them out of context…like looking specifically about the way in which the 12 are sent forth; with no food, no money, no outer garments – basically only the clothes on their backs. They are told to depend on Divine providence and the generosity and hospitality of those they encounter.  There is a tendency to view this passage, and to look at the apostles as almost super-human in their trust, in their faith. 

We need to remember that the trust of the apostles in this ‘sending forth’ was not built in a vacuum; Jesus has already been preaching and teaching for some time.  He has traveled about in Galilee, and while He has a number of followers, has chosen the 12 apostles specifically from among that larger group, and has spent more time speaking with and teaching them.  They have seen him performing signs and miracles – healing the blind and the lame, casting out demons, calming the stormy seas; He has taught them through word and example and is now sending them out to do the same.  They are grounded in their faith, and have an opportunity for support and a further deepening of what Jesus has taught them; He sends them out in pairs – to work, travel, preach and heal with each other; to support each other, just as we are called to support each other.

But Jesus didn’t tell them their formation or growth in their faith was complete;  he  provided them with an opportunity to grow deeper in their faith by the very fact he was sending them out to preach and teach others.  And later he would continue to teach them.  Their growth in the faith was not over, and so it is with each of us; faith is a gift from God, and when we are open to it, the more we desire to deepen it.

If we do not seek to deepen our own faith, if we do not seek to grow, then like anything else that does not grow our faith stagnates, and becomes stunted and can even die.  Remember, that in this group of 12 who preached repentance and healed the sick is included Judas Iscariot who would eventually betray Jesus.

If we would be in relationship with God, and call ourselves followers of Christ, then we need to grow in that relationship – to spend time in prayer, to read and pray over the Sacred Scriptures,– to learn and understand Church teaching; to regularly attend Mass; to participate in the Sacraments….because the truth is, Jesus calls each and every one of us who takes the name of Christian to be His ambassadors, His prophets – to go out and proclaim Him to everyone we meet; and He gives us opportunities to be formed, to deepen our own faith, so that we can bring that to others;  we may not be gifted with eloquence or a photographic recall of what the specific teachings are in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; but we can proclaim the Gospel by our actions and our lifestyles; by the way we treat others, the choices in entertainment we make; even the decisions we make in purchasing goods; all of these are opportunities to bring others closer to Christ .

Despite the pandemic, being present at Mass – gathering as a family of faith – is in itself a public response to that call to deepen our relationship with God. Consider this; if someone has asked us to attend a function or sports event, or even to visit, and we replied with, “Sure, but it will have to be after Mass on Saturday/Sunday,”, or “ I can’t make it Sunday because of Mass, but I can come over on another day,” then we have already preached that a relationship with God is important and takes precedence over other personal wants or desires.  We have already acted in a small way as a prophet – as a spokesperson for God.  But we need to build on that calling.  We can look at this moment, today, as our own commissioning point; that we can be Christ’s ambassadors- God’s prophets- of repentance and healing; that whether by focusing on a particular prayer in the Mass or a little deeper concentration on the Eucharist, we are saying “Yes’ to Jesus – “yes’ to making that decision to take what we are given, and in gratitude, go out and share it with the world.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

“ And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief”

We may read this phrase in St. Mark’s Gospel from this Sunday’s passage, and shake our own heads in amazement.  How many times have we heard people say (or perhaps heard ourselves say) ,  “I wish I lived in the Holy Land when Jesus walked the earth.  It would be so much easier to have faith and trust in Him if I could just see or hear him.”

It’s not a particularly uncommon thought or expression.  People have been saying that for decades – even centuries.  Yet, we often times forget that in His own home town, where people had known Him and His family since His childhood, they didn’t seem to have much faith or trust in Him.  He was ‘nothing special’; just another ‘hometown boy’.  Given the descriptions of His early life from the other Gospels, He would apparently have been from the lower end of the income scale in that community.  His father was a carpenter, a tradesman; St. Joseph wasn’t a rabbi, or a wealthy landowner or some other ‘pillar of the community’.  They were what we would call a working class family; and judging by the sacrifice they made in the temple as described in St. Luke’s Gospel , not a particularly well-off one at that.

Yet here we have Jesus in his own town after having travelled throughout the region teaching, and healing and working miracles; yet when he is taking the opportunity to teach in the synagogue he grew up in, a familiar house of worship, the locals – his ‘friends and neighbours’ – take offence at Him.  He has provided a witness to the power of God that rests with Him by his ‘deeds of power’ and the wisdom with which He teaches; yet the home crowd takes offence at him.

Maybe they think he is reaching ‘above his station’;  maybe they think he’s come home after receiving an education elsewhere and that he’s ‘talking down ‘ to his ‘betters’.  Whatever the case, clearly they don’t ‘get him’.  And because of this, there are no deeds of power except for a couple of healings.  The central and key point to this lack of miracles in that community, is that they have decided ahead of time that whatever Jesus has to say and whatever he has to do has no value to them; they have closed themselves off to the possibility that there is something of greater importance here than the son of a carpenter.

Their attitude and words prevent them from receiving God’s grace, God’s peace, and God’s healing love present to them in the person of Jesus.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t just ‘amazed’.  I expect He was saddened too.

In our current world, there is much discussion about the past sins and deeds perpetrated by certain members of the Church in her history.  While our initial response is to say things like (and I have heard these often enough from many, many people),”well you can’t blame the whole Church for a few bad apples”, or “well that was before I was alive so how can I take responsibility for that”, or perhaps (to me) the worst , “we’ve gone through many persecutions for our faith and we still do in different parts of the world” as if it’s some sort of competition that justifies ignoring another’s suffering.

While I am not particularly wise or important enough to have much to say that has any real bearing, I would simply offer this;  all of us who claim to be part of the Body of Christ, the Church, should be grieved at the behaviour of those who also claimed and claim to be part of that same Body.  We should be as saddened and outraged as anyone that a member of the Church would commit atrocious and evil acts – maybe even more outraged because these were also sins against the Body of Christ, and other children of God.

Perhaps we individually did not commit the specific actions that are the focus of so much anger; and while we have no words that can remove the generational trauma that so many experience, we can recognize this one point. 

We are called to be instruments of peace and reconciliation.

We can’t be reconciled without acknowledging the wrongs committed in our Saviour’s name.  As Christians, we are called to bring peace, hope and love wherever we go, to whomever we encounter.    If our actions or our attitudes prevent others from receiving that peace and true reconciliation, then that fault lies squarely with us, not with past generations.  God forbid that I would act in such a way that Jesus would be ‘amazed’ at my lack of compassion; or that I would sadden Him either.

We ask God, in this present time, to touch the hearts of us all; that our attitudes, words and actions, will not prevent others from receiving God’s grace, peace and healing love.  That they will indeed recognize in us, the presence of the Lord of Hope, the Lord of Life, the Lord of Reconciliation.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

One of the many things this pandemic of the past 18 months has actually given us – for good or ill – is more time for introspection and analysis;  sometimes maybe we ‘over’ analyze things and make our own corner of the world more ‘complicated’.  Yet, while it may not immediately feel like it, it has been an opportunity.  It’s been an opportunity to consider, and perhaps reconsider, patterns of thought or behaviour we held beforehand; and that might yield some very good fruit.  At times, possibly, it’s given way to a sense of depression at the way our culture and world have been moving;  at other times, it has motivated us to consider that the ‘usual way’ of doing things was neither the best nor the most Christian; to seek answers, to demand better of ourselves, our institutions and our culture.

Whether we are talking about matters on the world stage, in our own nation or our own communities, one thing is very clear; there is a tremendous need for healing, compassion and hope.  As Christians, of course, we recognize that the greatest source of these three things is Jesus; yet often we forget that we, as His disciples, are called to be agents of that healing, compassion and hope in whatever circumstances we may be in the present moment.

In our gospel passage this Sunday from St. Mark, we see two instances where the healing, compassionate and hopeful presence of Jesus is not only needed, but welcomed and embraced in two different ways.  In the first, the healing of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus is quite openly and publicly sought out, and despite resistance from those around him (even from his own household), Jairus persists and trusts that Jesus truly can bring healing to his grieving family.  In the other, an anonymous woman in the crowd has an almost ‘stealthy’ approach to Jesus; not wanting to be noticed by Him or the crowd around Him, but knowing and believing that He is a true source of healing and hope. 

The end result of these apparently two opposite approaches is the same.  The Lord of Love heals, consoles, strengthens, and gives hope.  He does so, not because the world has expected it, but in spite of the world’s expectations.  He does so in the midst of ridicule, disbelief and even hostility.  He heals because those who approach Him – boldly or quietly – trust in His compassion and love.

If there has ever been a time in our current generation to show whose disciples we truly are, by listening, understanding and committing to accompany others in their own suffering, trials and struggles, this is it.  This ‘opportunity’ be Christ-like has been delivered directly to each one of us, regardless of social status, race, or creed.  It is incumbent upon each of us, then, if we expect to receive the compassion, healing and hope of Jesus in our own lives, that we more authentically become instruments of that same compassion, healing and hope here and now; to everyone, everywhere.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

There is a cultural stereotype surrounding fatherhood in the West, that has been around for generations.  (Given that it’s Father’s Day, perhaps you will indulge me in this reference)  When fathers were traditionally seen as providers and protectors for their families, disciplinarians, and task-masters, there was always an encounter with their children that would cause the greatest of dads some trepidation and disturbance;  the time when their bright-eyed, inquisitive offspring would approach their armchair and ask a question that would test the limits of their knowledge and veracity;  questions like, ”Who made God?”, or “what happened to the animals that didn’t get on the ark?” or “where do babies come from?” After a brief moment of panic, followed perhaps by annoyance, the traditional response, stereotypically, was, “Go ask your mother.”  A standard answer for all questions.

“Who is this?”  That question is asked in both our first reading from the Old Testament book of Job, and in our passage from the New Testament, the Gospel of St. Mark. 

It is asked, of course, from two different perspectives:  asked in one case by God and in the other by humans.  They emphasize two different points as well:  in one, that God is above all, that God knows all, and that God is ever-present in all; in the other, that although they may have it spelled out for them, humans don’t seem to grasp that first point about God, particularly as He is made present in the person of Jesus.

Even if you haven’t actually read the book of Job, most of us are familiar with the reference; Job has abundance and worships God with a grateful heart.  The devil bets God that if Job lost all of his wealth and possessions, he wouldn’t be such a faithful follower. God says Job will be faithful regardless of what he has.  So the devil is permitted to tempt Job, and Job loses his land, his wealth, his possessions ,his family and his health.  Still, Job will not speak out or complain against God; even at first, when his friends suggest he should. Eventually Job gives in to peer pressure, and complains loudly to God, basically saying “don’t you care about me? I am perishing here’, demanding God answer for His actions, that God explain Himself.

It is in God’s response (which is one of my favourite parts of scripture) that Job is, as we say, brought back down to earth.

“Who is this,” God begins, “that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”  And then God proceeds to list as his ‘response’ to Job all the things that God has done and asks Job where was he when all this was done – the creation of the earth, the sea, the skies.  In other words, the reply is “I am God.  I created all without your input or advice or demands.  It is not for me to explain myself to you.  You are the creation, I am the Creator – not the other way around.   You were given life and more by me because of my goodness and generosity. Not because you deserved it. Not because you earned it. Not because you demanded it.”  And ultimately God restores everything back the way it was for Job, again illustrating His Providence, goodness and love.

Sounds kind of harsh, but sometimes bluntness is required when we step over that line that could place our relationship with God in peril.

Compare that with the Gospel story, in which Jesus is asleep in a boat being tossed about in a storm;  it must have been quite a storm because these disciples who are experienced fishermen, begin to panic and wake Jesus up to do something;  they sound a bit like Job, “ do you not care that we are perishing?”  On some level they must believe that Jesus has the power to do something against the fury of nature.  Yet when he calms the storm, their response is “Who is this?” They are so close to understanding the nature of who Jesus really is, but they don’t seem to want to admit it out loud; just as they feared the storm, they might fear the response of those around them if they admit out loud ‘Who this is’ , truly.  They may fear ridicule, rejection, loss. 

Yet just as God the Father restored all in the story of Job, God the Son, Jesus, after blunt and stern words (“why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”) preserves his small flock from death and disaster.  It’s a kind of preview of what he will do on a grander scale: ultimately reconciling the human race to God as it was in the beginning, when God created all from nothing, saving humanity from sin and death.

For the disciples, as for Job, there would be no shame in admitting they don’t know everything there is to know – simply because they are not God.  It’s the same for us.  What is a shame is not recognizing that we are children of God, created in God’s image and likeness;  and refusing to place our trust and hope in God, asking for guidance, for wisdom, and for the courage to do God’s will because we think we know better.

God did not abandon Job; Jesus did not abandon his disciples; neither will they abandon us, despite our own confusion, fear or doubt.

So perhaps Dad’s (and everyone else), we would be better advised when we’re confronted with  those questions that test our knowledge of the faith, our understanding of scripture, or our own relationship with God, our response might instead be:  “I actually don’t know that answer.  Let’s go look that one up together.” Or “let’s read that story and figure it out together,” or better still, ”let’s pray about that one together.”

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Good things come in small packages.

How often have we heard that expression? Yet the truth of this little maxim is proven time and again in our history, and in our day to day dealings with each other.  Often times, we find that the simple little gestures from others, rather than the grand and extravagant ones, are the ones that have a stronger influence or make a greater impression on us.

Time and again, in Sacred Scripture, we see this represented; great and wonderful things can come from the most (apparently) insignificant beginnings.  The choosing of a small desert tribe –the children of Israel – to be the vehicle through which God would make Himself known to the world;  the selection of David, a humble shepherd and the youngest of Jesse’s sons as the future king; the birth of our Savior in a lowly stable.  It is from the most modest beginnings or circumstances that God makes His presence and His will known.

In today’s Gospel, we are presented with the image of a mustard seed; a tiny speck or grain, looking like no more than a grain of sand.  But when that seed is planted and takes root and grows, it becomes a great bush or shrub – a tree really, and birds can come and make their nests in it.  This is the wonderful symbol that Jesus uses for the kingdom of God; something very small and insignificant is planted, and from this humble beginning, something wonderful and great begins to spread and grow.  The birds are attracted to it as a place to nest, to build a home, to live in and raise their young in it.  They are not forced to land or nest in this tree – they are drawn to its shelter and they choose to dwell there; much like the human soul – drawn to live in God’s love and life; they are not forced into it – yet they dwell in it, resting and raising their own young in it.

And of course, as the mustard tree flowers and blooms it provides more seeds, that in turn fall and are scattered – sometimes by the birds themselves- and spread throughout the area, causing more trees to grow so that more birds can come and nest – and so on; all from the smallest beginning from a humble little seed.

The message of this gospel passage is particularly important, especially in our current day and culture, to remind each of us of the role each of us plays in the spreading of the Kingdom – the support of our own and other’s faith lives, being heralds of the Christ within our own circumstances.  This is not just a responsibility of ‘professional’ Catholics – priests, deacons, religious, pastoral ministers, lay leaders; every member of the Church community must play a part in presenting and preserving the faith within our own families and communities; but it is a presentation through example, a lived witness to the Gospel.  We are called to support each other in this, and with the aid of a community of believers, we can all truly do great things for God.  And as if this ‘communal’ support were not enough, we are reminded by Jesus that we are also supported in all of this through the grace of God.  God’s grace is here to help hold us up in times of trial, in times of sadness, and in times of joy. 

Empowered by the grace of God, we are given the tremendous opportunity to be that influence for good in the world; realizing that the slightest actions in our lives will influence others.

Whether or not we realize it at the time, our words and actions will be the standard through which others will view Christ and His Church.  Sadly, our own national history has given us examples of the damage we can also do when we speak or act in a manner that is completely contrary to the Gospel.  We cannot let the same be said of our generation.

It is something that we are all called to, to use all those small moments in our daily lives, both great and small to further the message of the Gospels; to be those mustard seeds of witness; to spread the kingdom of God in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and our communities.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year B)

This Sunday we mark the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – or as we more commonly referred to it in the Latin – Corpus Christi.  It is a feast which centres around a core truth of our Catholic faith; at the heart of the Mass, in the Eucharistic celebration, the substances of bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  This sacrament, we believe, is then distributed amongst those who have been baptized in the faith and are more fully initiated into that faith.  We learn that – as St. Augustine wrote – we ‘become what we eat’ (as opposed to simply the biology of what we eat becomes us – but that too can serve to further deeply explain this wondrous union).  In that sacrament, we believe, that in consuming the consecrated host, we become more intimately connected to Christ, both physically and spiritually. 

And yet, as with any sacramental mystery, there is more – much more.

Often we don’t consider beyond that ‘reception’ to be more connected with Christ.  However, in receiving that sacrament in the community (when and where we are allowed to participate in the mass – thanks Covid), we are also making a public statement; that we believe and follow what the Church teaches. 

As they say in the commercials, ‘but wait, there’s more.’  We further believe that when we receive Christ in the sacrament, and those around us receive Christ in the same sacrament, then not only is each individual more connected to Christ, but so is everyone else – and in that, we are all connected in Christ to each other.  This is the expanded Body of Christ, present in His disciples and in believers.

This is a beautiful image to consider; an image that tells us that we truly are one Body.  We are not simply a collection of individuals who have nothing in common; no connection; no relationship.  Sometimes those connections or relationships are challenging or difficult.  At other times they are what seem to give us tremendous joy or a sense of well-being and peace. 

In the Eucharist, we share the ministry of Jesus and His life and His glory, and yes – His passion and suffering.  We can’t have one without all the others. This then is where we recognize that we are truly one, united to Christ and in Christ with all people who share in His body and blood.  Whether triumphant or in struggle we share that with each other in and through Jesus.

If we need real world examples of this, in our present time, we have had several reminders this week.  Media reports concerning the unmarked burial and gravesites of children at a number of the old residential schools in various parts of the country, remind us that we can’t be smug or detached as if this is not a part of our collective or shared history.  The people of our first nations in Canada are as much God’s children as any of us, and so many share our faith and tradition as well as their own cultural identity.  To believe otherwise is to perpetuate the mindset that excused the old residential school system.  Individually we may not be direct participants in past acts of injustice; but each of us has the opportunity and responsibility to be instruments of compassion and love.

When one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers.

Yet, when there is healing and peace, the whole body experiences healing and peace.

On this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, may we earnestly and passionately seek to be agents of that healing, peace and justice, completely connected to each other and totally united in Jesus and the love of God.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Most Holy Trinity (Year B)

We often think of Jesus as the loving and compassionate one, the seeker of the lost, the comforter of the afflicted – we rarely it seems, think of Him as ‘commanding’ or giving orders.  Yet in the gospel passage we have today from St. Matthew, for this feast the Most Holy Trinity, Jesus is presented to us in just such a role.  It is just before He ascends into heaven, well after the Resurrection, and as He is about to return to the Father, He leaves His disciples with these words;

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

In our current culture, where everything is ‘relative’, where right or wrong seems to be dictated by ‘feelings’ in the moment, we chafe at phrases like this; in fact, we almost consciously ‘skip over’ the parts that we don’t like – we hear Jesus say, ‘make disciples of all nations’ and we hear ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit,’ but then our attention trails off at the words, ‘teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.’

Our western culture has come to the point where it seems secular society orders the sacred community as to what they can say, what to believe, how to practice, and how to live out what Christ ‘commands’ us to do; and mostly that order from this society is ‘say and do nothing according to your convictions, but go along with what society deems to be appropriate and good.’

Even from within the Church, sometimes we are hesitant to speak out, to cite the commands of Christ from the Gospel or the teaching of the Church according to the Catechism, because we are afraid of ‘offending’ someone – because we don’t want to seem bossy or demanding.  But each of us, from the highest to the lowest, at some time, need to be reminded of what it means to truly be a Christian.  Each of us should remember, at some point, we will be held accountable for our actions (or inaction) when they are measured against the Gospel.

Less than a generation ago, we could never have imagined the unprecedented cultural attacks on marriage and the family that we have witnessed; we would not have believed it if someone had told us that it would be socially unacceptable or even illegal to pray and mention Jesus’ name at a public meeting; we would have been embarrassed and outraged at what now passes for acceptable ‘family’ entertainment mocking values such as faithfulness, purity or chastity.

And yet this is where we have arrived, and it would appear we are here precisely because as a community of believers, we have forgotten Jesus’ words at that last encounter in Matthew’s Gospel.

First and foremost of ‘everything’ that Jesus commanded was in keeping with what had been revealed by God from the earliest times, through Moses; that there is no God but God, and that we are to love Him with all our being – and that to love Him with all our being means following His commandments: not so that we will win His approval, but so that we will live in peace and unity with Him and all people; that we will live out our full potential as His children , and we will draw others into that relationship.  To draw others into that relationship is not a ‘suggestion’; Jesus makes it a command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” and in bringing others into that relationship we are to teach them all that God has revealed to us through Jesus

Whether or not that fits in with political correctness, modern culture, or ‘progressive society’ is irrelevant.  We are called to be His disciples; and being His disciples means following all of His commands, not picking and choosing which ones we like or are comfortable with or make us ‘feel’ good.  Jesus said ‘everything’ that I commanded you and He means ‘everything’. 

This feast of the Holy Trinity reminds us that in the one God, there are three persons, united in a relationship of love, of total self-emptying and total self-giving.  This is relationship personified, relationship at its most perfect; this is what we are commanded to bring others into; yet if we do not go out into the world and invite others in, we will not be living out our call as true disciples of Christ.

We pray, particularly on this feast day, that we will be granted the love of God the Father, the compassion of Jesus the Son, and the strength and courage of the Holy Spirit to take the graces and blessings that we continue to receive from the Holy Trinity; to use them and share them with all people, in all places, and at all times.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of the Ascension (Year B)

One of the most typical reactions we have to a deeply moving experience, is to hang on to it, to cling to it.  Whether it is a moment when we seem to suddenly understand a concept we have struggled with in a particular field – science or mathematics for example; whenever we have one of these ‘aha’ moments or ‘wow’ moments, we tend to want to remain there.  This is especially true in the spiritual or interior life.  When we have a particularly insightful moment or an awareness of God, we might be tempted to cling tightly to that insight. Often we want to revisit these experiences, sometimes even trying to escape from thinking about certain trials or struggles we go through by ‘summoning up’ a previous happy ‘moment’.

There is something to beware in this, though, especially in the spiritual life.  There is a real temptation to want to ‘re-live’ or ‘re-create’ the event that brought about a particular experience – it may have been a real sense of the power of the Holy Spirit, or an insight into the unconditional love of God, or a deeply felt awareness in our own hearts of the presence of Christ in others.  We may have had this experience on a retreat, or during a specific Mass.  But rather than simply accepting this insight or experience as a grace moment, as a gift from God, we cling to it and try to duplicate the conditions so that we can have this experience again, and again, and again. 

The fact is, when we are deep in prayer, and if we are blessed enough to have one of these insights, the moment we try to ‘figure out’ how we got to that point, the experience begins to slip away from us.

The danger in this, particularly if this involves our prayer life and spirituality, is that we have become focussed on a gift, and have forgotten about the Giver; we are hoping for the ‘high’ that we felt in that momentary experience – rather than simply accepting a gift with a sense of gratitude.  We try to cling to that grace as if it is something private and meant only for us, and we become defensive if anyone should ‘intrude’ into that grace.  And in doing that, we turn these ‘moments’ into something that almost become little gods in themselves.

We forget that God gives us these grace moments to draw us deeper into a relationship with Him, and subsequently to draw others into that relationship.  Jesus did not teach his disciples to seek the kingdom of God solely for themselves or for their own benefit.  Time after time he reminds them, and us, of our responsibility to be witnesses to the kingdom, to invite others into the kingdom – to make the love of God and the mercy of Christ known to everyone.  The whole point is to go out and bring others into that loving companionship of Jesus – and not simply by quoting a few catch-phrases or nice-sounding quotes; we are to do so by a lived example; by being visible signs, by being witnesses to the very real and precious love of God moving through our own lives.

The disciples had numerous deep and moving experiences and an intimate knowledge of the power and the presence of Jesus in their own lives.  The Acts of the Apostles, tells us how after his resurrection, Jesus spent an additional forty days with his friends; teaching them, comforting them, sharing with them.  To say that they have had a deeply spiritual experience in the presence of Jesus, who they have seen raised from the dead, would be an understatement.  But then, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus was lifted up from their sight, in His Ascension to the Father.

While they were ‘caught up’ in this experience, standing in awe and not moving, two strangers in white robes (we’re given the impression they are angels) say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go to heaven.”  In other words, the angels seem to be reminding the disciples; you’ve had a wonderful experience. Now instead of standing here and clinging to it, do something with it!

This same injunction is spoken to us, ‘You have received a gift – go out and share it with others; share it with those who do not know God; share it with those who are starving for relationship; share it with those who are trying desperately to fill their lives with all sorts of things that cannot possibly satisfy them; share it with those who have no sense of being loved.’

The reality of the love of God in our own lives is not restricted to single experiences or grace moments; the love of God is something that moves and lives and breathes in and around and through us every day, all the time, if only we remain open to being aware of it.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

“Call your mother.”

Sometimes we need a subtle – or not so subtle – reminder to reach out, to make an effort and contact those in our lives who have had an impact, an influence and been a support as we have grown and developed. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in motherhood.

We have all sorts of reminders during this month of May. On the secular front, we observe Mother’s Day on May 9th this year; the Church traditionally sets aside the month of May to honour Mary (particularly with devotional practices such as communal recitation of the rosary and other Marian prayers). This month is a time of new birth and growth in the natural world of the northern hemisphere. It all points us toward the crucial role of motherhood – of participation in creation, salvation and development.

With the exception of marketing to promote sales and services for a particular ‘occasion’, our culture increasingly diminishes the intrinsic value that motherhood has, simply by its existence. Our Creator invites us as humans to participate in continuing His divine act of loving each of us into existence; mothers, intimately connected to this ongoing creative process surrender their own selves to bring another into the world. They are called (and it is a calling, a true vocation – not just circumstances or a coincidence) to nurture, to care for, to raise and support the child that they have been graced with. In our faith, mothers have a key role in raising their children (as the baptism ritual notes) according to the Gospel, to love God and to love their neighbour as themselves as Christ commanded.

Yet, we now live in a world and society where the blessing and gift of motherhood is often looked upon as a curse, or a burden. The siren call of this culture says that children prevent women from achieving their own full potential, their own desires and ambitions, their own comforts. Even more recently there is a movement in certain ‘politically correct’ circles to reduce the gift of motherhood simply to a bodily function devoid of the respect due to women who answer and fulfil this vocational calling that is key to our very existence and our relationship with our Creator.

True, in the circumstances leading to birth, a woman has to adapt, alter her plans and lifestyle and set aside certain activities and wants in the moment; but doesn’t that happen every time any person desires to move towards something that is truly life-giving and positive in their lives?

In today’s Gospel passage from St. John, Jesus speaks at the last supper to his disciples about what true love is. It is not an emotion, a ‘feeling’, or simply a physical act. Love is deliberately and intentionally wishing for and working for the good of the ‘other’.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this; than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

There is no more direct or poignant way to describe the true essence of motherhood than that. Mothers surrender much in order to see the light of life and love in their own child’s eyes. They suffer for their children, rejoice for their children, and delight in their children.

So whether your thoughts this weekend wander to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our spiritual mother, offer a prayer. If your mother is no longer living among us, offer a prayer and a word to her. If your mother is still on this earth, pick up your technology of choice and reach out, if you are not able to physically be with her.

Either way;

Call your mother.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!