Twenty seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B )

Over the past 20 months or so, the pandemic has caused us to have to make a lot of ‘adjustments’ to the way we do things; weddings were particularly effected, with many couples having to drastically modify their plans.  In a sense though, it provided an opportunity what is at the heart of the rite of matrimony; to see what is truly essential, important and necessary.

Our readings today, particularly the Gospel and first reading, deal with marriage; it is from these readings among others, that the Church receives her understanding of what marriage is all about, particularly as a Sacrament, and what Church teaching is based upon.  But as with every passage of Scripture, there is always a better understanding that each of us can take from the Living Word of God that speaks to our hearts and minds and helps us better appreciate what Jesus tells us through the teachings of our Catholic faith.

 Our faith tells us that the Sacrament of Marriage is lifelong; the intent when we enter into it, is to a lifetime commitment; a permanence; a covenant – that’s what the Church teaches; yet our culture of disposability questions that; even sometimes ridicules it as an outdated or old-fashioned unrealistic concept. Today we have a cultural myth that says the way to happiness and fulfilment is to do what you want, when you want; in relationships particularly, if things don’t work out the way we want them, then we can just bail out or walk away.

The Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage ask Jesus about divorce based on a ‘permission’ that was handed down by Moses;  they say to Jesus ‘Moses said a man could divorce his wife given certain conditions – what do you have to say about that?’  First off, they hold Moses as the great lawgiver, so they want to see if Jesus will contradict someone who handed down most of the laws on which their whole tradition is based; their question is not so much to understand really what Jesus teaches; their question is designed to ‘trip’ Jesus up; to ridicule Jesus or discredit his teaching; to diminish his mission, and show that they know better. We see this time and again in the gospels; and we see it time and again in our society, even amongst Catholics who want Church teaching on faith and morals and the Sacraments to bend in their favour. This is the hardness of heart Jesus talks about.

The permission that the Pharisees speak of is from the book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses is trying to keep the children of Israel on track with God’s intent that they live righteous lives and remain pure and dedicated to him.  But they live amongst numerous pagan cultures, cultures which embrace divorce as just another phase of relationships.  The children of Israel, even after all that God has done for them, show their hardness of heart; they say to Moses ‘we want to be like everyone else…okay, granted God has given us a lot; has blessed us abundantly, but that’s not enough.’  The truth is though, as God’s chosen people, they’re not like everybody else; but in order to diminish this demand to a lesser evil, and to give time for people to think before they act on a divorce, MOSES gives them permission.

But Jesus explains to them, it was because of their hardness of heart that Moses made this provision in the law.  Jesus tells them from the beginning, reflected in our first reading from Genesis, God created man and woman for each other; that they were intended by God to be united in a complementary relationship of mutual support and self-giving and caring; the words God uses for woman in relation to man as husband and wife in this creation account are helper and partner;  in the gospel Jesus reminds the Pharisees of God’s original intent in marriage between man and woman; and he reminds them, and us, that what God has united, people must not divide; He states the ideals here that God set out.  He uses the little child to tell the Pharisees, and us, that it is not in hardness of heart, but in opening our hearts to trust in what God has stated time and again through Scripture and through His prophets; that’s what being childlike is all about; that accepting what God has taught in open trust and wonder like a little child is how we enter into the Kingdom – not by demanding that we can be ‘like everybody else’, or changing His commandments to suit our tastes.

As Catholics we believe that Jesus is God; and as such He knows what God intended from the beginning; He emphasizes the ideal of marriage between a man and a woman (as helpers or partners) and raises or elevates it to a Sacrament, not just a civil union or a contract. He made marriage sacred; he made it a sign which grants special graces from God; that He is present in the Sacrament of Matrimony; that’s why we celebrate the Sacrament of marriage in a Church; that’s why the Church teaches the ideal of the permanence of marriage; that’s why the Church teaches the family is sacred; and it is with the openness of a little child’s heart that Christ invites us to trust in the wisdom and the Divine intent of this teaching; He himself tells us in marriage – as in all things – what is truly essential, important, and necessary.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Many years ago, when I was studying journalism at college, it seemed that society’s desire for ‘entertainment’ in the news was beginning to outweigh the strictly ‘informational’ type of stories that were carried in the media.  It became more about what people ‘wanted to know’ rather than what the people ‘needed to know’.  There used to be a sense of propriety and discretion in terms, particularly, of images that were printed or broadcast – there were certain lines that previously were not crossed, that were now being erased.  It became the culture of editorial thought that gave us the maxim, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ when choosing headlines or front page stories.

And whether or not we agree with this philosophy, there is little doubt that in the mainstream media, this approach generates a lot of attention, a lot of subscribers, a lot of viewers; and of course a lot of revenue.

We are given a pretty graphic image in our passage from St. Mark’s Gospel this week. Jesus speaks very forcefully about how we should react to sin in our own lives.  While this isn’t the entire message in this particular passage, it seems to be the part that most people focus on – not because we live it out, but because it is a somewhat disturbing image, and we seem to be drawn to it, almost because it is so disturbing.

‘If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off….if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off…if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…better to enter heaven maimed then be thrown whole into hell…”

If a person read this teaching literally and in isolation of the rest of Scripture, it would be pretty frightening and disturbing; it would likely turn us off from Christianity if this was the only teaching we heard.

The proof that Jesus was speaking figuratively is in evidence by the fact that the disciples and members of the early Church weren’t walking around missing limbs or eyes as a general ‘rule of thumb’ (pun intended). Even the Apostles had moments of weakness recorded in the Gospels, but this ‘self-mutilating penance’ was not accepted practice, or it too would have been recorded for us.

What Jesus was directing His followers toward was a style of living, of self-discipline and discernment.  He was pointing out to all of his disciples that in our humanity, there are always things, people, situations, actions, and more, that lead us away from God – from living in unity with Our Creator – and moving us further and further away from communion with God and with each other.

He speaks in graphic terms to underscore how important this lesson is:  if there is an activity or practice that you are involved in that causes you to sin, get rid of that activity or practice in your life – ‘cut it off’ as it were.  We all have those occasions and places that we know, if we participate or enter into them, will cause us to move away from Christ:  if we cannot control our drinking, then a pub is something we should avoid;  if we cannot keep from looking at internet pornography then we need to put ‘blocks’ on our internet access or cancel it altogether; if each time we go to the coffee room with fellow employees, we gossip about another co-worker, then we need to find somewhere else to go for coffee or avoid that particular group; if a person draws you further from God, it might be time to re-evaluate that relationship.

This passage is not meant to frighten us like some first-century version of a ‘zombie apocalypse’; but it is meant to stress the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions and decisions, and making real. concrete efforts in living a life that is in keeping with the Gospels, and conforming our own will to God’s will.

We might have to give up striving to be ‘popular’ with a certain social group, or ‘having’ certain luxuries that don’t bring us toward God but away from Him; this might feel like a hardship and that we might feel in some sense, is a kind of suffering; we might feel even a sense of loss in giving up one of these activities or settings – the depth of loss we feel actually tells us how far these things have drawn us away from where we should be;  the reality is we aren’t actually losing something; we are gaining something, something far greater.

We are gaining a deeper relationship with God.  We are moving ever closer to eternity with Him, through His love and His grace.  That’s a good ‘news’ story that I believe we can all subscribe to.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

If I was forced to choose one privilege I was granted through my diaconal ordination above the others, baptism of infants or children would rate right up there.  While the whole Rite is a tremendous joy to celebrate, my favorite prayer comes near the end, when I touch the child’s ears and mouth: this prayer, prayed by the deacon or the priest is called the Ephphatha rite; the words are

“The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak.

May he soon touch your ears to receive his word,

And your mouth to proclaim his faith,

To the praise and glory of God the Father

Amen.”

The incident in today’s passage from St. Mark’s Gospel not only recounts a physical event or moment in history; it speaks not only of a physical miracle of healing; it speaks not only of a fulfillment of prophecy that would identify the Messiah –it speaks to the invitation to not only hear God speaking to each and every one of us in our broken-ness; it speaks to the response we are each called to make in hearing God.

The man that Jesus heals in this account lives in the Decapolis, or the Ten Towns in the region near the Sea of Galilee. This particular region was populated not only by Jewish people, but by other cultures; Syro-Phoenicians, Canaanites – people from pagan cultures.  And because this population regularly mixed, the Jews of this region were looked down on by those closer to Jerusalem in the south of Palestine as being of lesser religious ‘value’ – kind of a case of ‘guilt by association’; the Pharisaic wisdom would be something like this… if they lived near and with pagans, then they were most likely weak in their religious observances, or unclean.  Of course as we see in this Gospel as elsewhere, this isn’t an obstacle to Jesus in granting healing or in calling others to follow Him.

In this healing , the man is brought to Jesus by others;  somewhat paralleled in our own Rite of Baptism, where those to be baptized are brought forward by others, whether it be by parents for infants, or by family or sponsors for older children or adults in the RCIA process.  But someone introduces the man to Jesus; and Jesus touches him, healing him, by commanding the man’s ears to ‘Be opened’ or in the Aramaic word ‘Ephphatha’.

He then heals the man’s tongue so that his impediment is removed and he can speak clearly or properly.

But what is he expected to speak about?  He’s expected to use his ears to hear the word of God and his mouth to speak of God.  In his broken-ness he is spoken to and healed directly by God in the person of Jesus, the living Word of God, and is given the gift of speech to proclaim God’s goodness.

It doesn’t matter about his past life, his cultural background, his choice of geographic location to live in; what matters is that he is introduced to Jesus; Jesus opens him up to hearing His word and opens his mouth to proclaim. And that’s about as good a definition of a vocation as you will get.

We all have a calling from God.  Each and every person in the world has a call to come closer to God, to enter into His holiness.  That’s what each and every person has been called to since the fall of our first parents. But we are also called in a more particular way, to a specific path.

We are not all called to the same thing or called in the same way.  But in order to hear the call, we need to hear the words of Jesus ‘Ephphatha’ – ‘Be opened’.  But with that call, that ‘being open’, something is expected; we must not only hear the word, but like the man whose tongue was healed, we need to do something with that word.   And here’s the paradox – the only work we need to do in this is to say yes to being opened to hearing what God calls us to do. We say ‘yes’ and God does the rest, including the opening; God provides the grace to act on that call, that word – if we are opened enough to say yes to God.

The call of the prophet Isaiah, whose book our first reading came from, reflects this hearing and proclaiming of God’s word.  Isaiah heard God’s word, but he wasn’t immediately willing to act on it, or to proclaim it; he had an excuse ‘I am a man of unclean lips’…but he had a vision in which an angel touched his lips with a coal from the before God’s throne; his lips were healed of his ‘impurity’ and he went out from this experience, prophesying the coming of the Messiah, and proclaiming God’s commands to Israel.

He was open to saying yes, but it was God’s grace that provided the ability to proclaim Him.

It was this same prophet, in our first reading, who gives Israel a sign of what the Messiah will be able to do; a sign which Jesus provides in the Gospel – the healing of the deaf;  but it’s not simply a matter of healing a physical impairment in a man 2000 years ago; Jesus heals the deafness of our minds and hearts when we simply follow his healing words to ‘Be opened’…if we are truly opened, then He will provide the direction and the guidance and the graces we need to proclaim the praise and glory of God the Father.

And how do we proclaim Him?  We do it by our words, by our actions, by our life.

We all receive a different call – a call that is as unique as the one receiving it;

We pray for vocations – and in that prayer, we ask God to open the ears of the hearts of those he calls, that they ‘Be opened’ to hear his call, and be given the grace to follow that call.

We are not all called to a priestly, diaconal or religious vocation: married life is as much a vocational call.  So is remaining a single person, but we are all called to serve God and our neighbors in whatever state of life or occupation God has called us to. In our work, our schools, our homes, our social lives, our families, we are all called to be open to what God is calling us to do, and to seek the grace to put what we are called to into action, to do it for God’s glory.

So I would like to repeat again those words from the Ephphatha rite in prayer ;

 “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak.

May he soon touch your ears to receive his word,

And your mouth to proclaim his faith,

To the praise and glory of God the Father

Amen.”

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

 Often we do things so often and for so long that we perhaps forget ‘why we do what we do’. 

This really becomes apparent to us when we do something that, as part of a group, we repeat regularly over a period of time, and someone (perhaps a child or someone outside of that group) asks us, ‘why do you do that?’ or even, ‘why do we do that?’ and we respond with either, ”I don’t know” or even worse, ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

It’s good to be reminded sometimes why we ‘do what we do’.  It’s good to take time to think about our actions and our words, particularly in relation to prayer and worship and liturgy and our faith – because in understanding why we say or do certain things, we come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our identity and our calling and mission as Christians.

Think, perhaps as an example, of entering a church, touching the holy water at the entrance, and making the sign of the cross.  Why do we do that?

Each time we do that, we are reminding ourselves of our own baptism:  at the welcoming in the Rite of Baptism of a child, we mark the child with the sign of the cross, saying, ‘ The Church welcomes you with great joy, and in her name I claim you for Christ  our Savior by the sign of His cross’ the celebrant then makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead.

We remind ourselves of the most wondrous gift of all: that at baptism we become adopted sons and daughters of God – how incredible is that? We have been adopted in a deeply intimate and personal relationship with the God who loved us into existence, and we share that in common with all of those who have been baptized and adopted, children of the One God, brothers and sisters in Christ; and the more we consider that, the deeper we come to an appreciation of just how special each person is, and how special our relationship is to them and with them in God.

That’s just one action within our faith and prayer as individuals and as a community, and there are so many more.  The point is, we need to understand why we do what we do, and move and act and live in union with God and each other in that special relationship, a relationship based on love.  If we don’t understand, or worse, forget why we do or say these things, they become mechanical – they become disconnected from our faith and our heart, and they then become meaningless. 

They become an end in themselves, rather than a means to deepening our relationship – both individually and collectively – with God.

This cuts to the heart of the heated discussion between Jesus and a particular group of Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark.  When these people critically question Jesus’ disciples about not following strictly the law of Moses (using washing of hands as a specific example) Jesus accuses them of hypocrisy. He points to and quotes from Isaiah:”this people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me”

The point Jesus makes with this specific group was they were following religious practices and rites and ceremonies without making the connection to why they were doing these things in the first place.  These practices, at their core, were meant to bring the people closer to God;  God told the Israelites “keep the commandments of the Lord your God”…”observe them diligently for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples”

God had given the children of Israel all of his commandments and laws to observe so that they might grow closer to him.  They were to be kept in practice, but also in their hearts:  they were a means to an end.

But this group arguing with Jesus had forgotten this: they were keeping the law as an end in itself – in a sense the law had become a lesser god to them in its own right.

Jesus didn’t tell them to abandon the law or commandments – elsewhere in the gospels Jesus tells the crowds ‘I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”  But it was and is crucial to follow and recall in one’s heart the purpose for which laws and rites and rituals were given by God in the first place.

They are there to bring us, and others, closer to God.  They are there to assist us in our own baptismal calling to work for the salvation of souls and the coming of the Kingdom of God.  But only if we practice them inside, as well as outside – in our hearts as well as in our actions: we are called to reverently and sincerely express our love for God in prayer and liturgy – and we are called to be just as sincere in expressing that love in our actions with those around us – the poor, the sick, the lonely – everyone around us.

We must never forget this: that love of God that we are so privileged to be part of and to share is the whole reason why, ‘we do what we do’.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

We’ve all heard that old expression, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going…’

There was a popular turn of that old maxim in the late 1960’s and 70’s which went, ‘when the going gets tough, split.’

There are times when we truly struggle with the teachings of Christ and the Church, because often they seem to far beyond our abilities.  There are times when the culture insists that because things are difficult, they aren’t worth pursuing or ‘sticking with’.  Anyone who has paid even the least attention to the news in the past months is well aware that the Church is again dealing with scandal in her midst; and there are many voices who insist that rather than hold those responsible accountable, or rather than remaining faithful to the Gospel and the teaching of the Church to uphold and support  the victims of these scandals, to promote healing, people should just ‘split’ or leave.

As if simply leaving would help victims, or would hold those responsible to account for their behaviour.

We see something a bit similar in the size of the crowd which follows Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel; where the numbers following Jesus at the feeding of the multitude to the conclusion of the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse – the numbers drop from about 5000 to 12; there are two points in this particular passage that have always struck me as the most profound when it comes to encountering the truth of Our Lord in the Eucharist.  The first is the reaction of ‘many of his disciples’; the second is the response of Peter

We have heard Jesus insist – not just suggest – he insisted that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Many of his disciples questioned and struggled with this, but ultimately their response was to abandon Christ.  They didn’t struggle and seek deeper understanding and remain with him, asking that he reveal the deeper truth of this to them.  They just left; St. John puts it a little more diplomatically, “because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”  Other translations of verse 66 state “..and they all left him”.

Contrast that with Peter; when Jesus turns to the Apostles and asks if they too wish to leave, Peter responds with ‘Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter and the rest of the 12 may not have understood perfectly what Jesus was saying; in fact, it becomes clear as the gospels continue that they did not. But they were willing to stand by Christ, and to allow him to reveal to them the deeper understanding of what that relationship with Him actually meant.

Is the journey of faith an easy one? Of course not; it is filled with joys and blessings, yes; but it is also filled with struggles, trials and hardships.  It was God who entered into our reality in the person of Jesus, to be with us and to journey with us; to draw us closer to himself.  He is not the one who does the ‘leaving’.  That choice is ours.

Will we be like the disciples who ‘no longer went about with Him’?  Or are we like the 12 who, though not completely understanding or perfect, were willing to remain with the One who had called them by name in the first place?  Which group will be able to help with accountability and healing the most?

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of the Assumption (Year B)

On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith: “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” The pope proclaimed this dogma only after a broad consultation of bishops, theologians and laity. What the pope solemnly declared was already a common belief in the Catholic Church.  This was not something that was ‘invented’ by Catholics in the 20th century. We find homilies on the Assumption going back to the sixth century.The feast was celebrated under various names (Commemoration, Dormition, Passing, Assumption) from at least the fifth or sixth century.

This feast celebrates our Catholic belief that Mary, when her earthly life was ended, was taken body and soul into heaven. There, she shares in the Resurrection of Christ her son. As a young woman, she accepted in trust and faith  and humility the will of God, becoming the mother of His only Son.  Following Him through His earthly life, His ministry, His suffering and death, and His resurrection, she was Her Son’s most devoted follower;  being born without original sin, it was not her lot to suffer the death and decay from the fall of our first parents; her lot was to be assumed, body and soul into heaven with her Son.

 This doctrine—and today’s feast—hold several promises for us; first, a promise that as members of the Body of Christ, will share in his Resurrection at the end of time; second, a promise that God gives us the power to live our lives in a new way; third, a promise that we can trust in the prayers of Mary who dwells with her Son in heaven, to support us in our own faith journeys. In today’s Gospel, Mary voices her “Magnificat,” a proclamation of the wonderful things God has done—and will do—for her; not just for her though, but “for those who fear God in every generation,” past, present and future.  That includes us here and now.  She proclaims this prayer with a sense of great Joy.  And it is in this Spirit of joy that the spreading of the great news that God dwells among us begins; even before Jesus is born, while He is still in his mother’s womb, even without words, the great news of His presence is felt by those who come near Him.  It is the joy of encountering Christ in person, and the joy of encountering Christ in others.

One of the many titles for Mary is ‘Theotokos’ which is Greek and literally means ‘God bearer’ or ‘Carrier of God’

In our gospel passage St. Elizabeth exclaims the joy of this encounter that she has with God being carried by her kinswoman, Mary.  Elizabeth says ‘the moment your greeting reached my ears the child in my womb leaped for joy’…The joy that Elizabeth experiences is not just some surface happiness at welcoming a dear relative that she hasn’t seen for a while; this joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, reaching deeply into St. Elizabeth’s being – so deeply that it is transmitted to the child she carries in her womb – a child who, we know, will grow up to be St. John the Baptist.

 If we take just a moment, we can all recall at least one person we know or have known who was deeply spiritual and committed to God, following Jesus’ teaching and example.  When we think of those people, we can have a sense of the joy that they have in their relationship with God; and that joy is contagious;  we feel drawn at first to those people on a surface level, but then we feel drawn more to the source of their joy on a deeper level; that joy comes from a relationship with God; it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; it is the joy that drew Mary to proclaim her tremendous prayer,The Magnificat.

This is a message for all of us who take the name of Christian; following Mary’s example of humility and surrender, we are all called to carry Christ with us everywhere we go to everyone we meet; to be vessels or carriers of that Joy of the Spirit.  Mary gives us a clear example in this Gospel story, responding in Joy to the promises God has made to His people through His Word. She took those promises to heart and lived by them.

As we continue on our own faith journey, let’s imitate Mary, in joy, humility and gratitude, meditating on the words of her Magnificat in our hearts, ”My Soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has done great things for me.”

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

A friend of mine once told me, ‘Sin is forgetting; Grace is remembering.’

If we forget our blessings, we can end up with an ungrateful attitude.  Or worse, we can become arrogant – perhaps thinking, ‘okay God, you blessed me once upon a time – but what have you done for me lately?’

We have classic examples of the ingratitude of forgetting in our first reading and our Gospel passage today.

In our first reading, we hear from the book of Exodus, the children of Israel complaining at Moses, ‘we’re hungry. Did you bring us out into the desert to die of hunger?’  Then they add, ‘we had lots to eat back in Egypt’ – as if to say, ‘we had it pretty good back there’.

Sure; ‘if we forget we were slaves, bought and sold as property; if we forget we were forced to labor under the rod and whip; if we forget that the previous Pharaoh had tried to exterminate Israel by killing all male children – other than that, we had it pretty good’

They forget the blessing of being delivered from Egypt; of the parting of the Red Sea, when God let them pass through the waters on dry land (while the Egyptian army was again trying to kill them all), or how God led them as a pillar of cloud and of fire. 

It sounds very much like, ‘what have you done for us lately God?’

This forgetfulness is reflected in our Gospel passage from St. John.  This story picks up from last week, when Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish.  In between that and this passage, he walked on the Sea of Galilee, saved Peter’s life and got into the boat to travel the rest of the way to Capernaum. 

Now at first light, the same crowd from the other side of Galilee meets Jesus on the shore, and among the other things they say in the dialogue that follows, is:

 ‘what sign will you give us that we might believe in you?’

If it were me, I might be tempted to respond with, ‘seriously?  What sign am I going to work for you?  I just fed five thousand of you with five loaves and two fish; I walked on water; and you’re asking what sign am I going to work for you?’

Fortunately for the crowd and myself, I am not Jesus.

We see this forgetting of blessings and work of God, this ingratitude,this arrogance met instead with mercy, compassion and charity.

In Exodus, God responds to the complaints and ingratitude with manna and quails to feed the Israelites.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus responds with the words, ‘I am the bread of life’, giving us the promise of the Eucharist;  he gives a promise of emptying Himself eternally for them and for us – a promise that He keeps to this day – a promise that we joyfully celebrate each and every time we gather for Mass – to receive this bread from heaven, the Eucharist – a word which actually means , ‘Thanksgiving’;

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist He gives himself to us, body and blood, soul and divinity, allowing us to enter into His very reality, and in turn, to share that reality with everyone around us.  Yet for each of us, it seems, this is something that -too often- we can forget.  We might recall His presence within us for a period of time after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist…sadly for many of us, it doesn’t last beyond the parking lot of our church.

I would encourage you to read over the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel in your own prayer time during the coming days; to examine how we continue to be blessed by God and how we respond to those blessings; to examine how we respond to the invitation to be a people of gratitude; a people of thanksgiving; a people of the Eucharist.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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!