13th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

If ever there was a Gospel story that reflects worldly response to the word’s and wisdom of Jesus, then this Sunday’s passage from St. Mark would be it. This passage covers two episodes which are kind of ‘sandwiched’ together; the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage.

I say ‘sandwiched’ because the story begins with the initial contact between Jairus and Jesus, where Jairus, a synagogue official, begs Jesus to come heal his daughter. While Jesus is preparing to leave with Jairus, we then have the incident of the woman cured of the hemorrhage. After the encounter between the woman and Jesus, St. Mark resumes the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

We have two miracles in this one passage; the presence of Jesus brings healing and brings life. However, I would like to focus on the response to the words of Jesus in each of these miracles.

When Jesus is touched by the woman, who in her desperation believes just touching Jesus’ clothes would be sufficient to cure her, he responds with ‘who touched my clothes?’ He is in the midst of a great crowd, and rather than attempting to answer Jesus’ question, his disciples respond with dismay; put in more modern language, we might expect them to say, ‘are you kidding me? In the middle of a crowd you want to know WHO touched you? Are you out of touch with what is going on around you?’
And of course, when Jesus comes to the house of Jairus, and says the little girl is not dead, but only sleeping – and the people there respond by laughing at Him, again we can imagine their response, ‘how insensitive are you? Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand the ‘real world’?’

But we see in both instances, that Jesus is completely aware, and completely ‘in touch’ and that His words and teaching are truth and love – and in both cases there is tremendous healing for the ones who come to Him in trust. He hears their cries; he understands their needs; he knows His own. He responds in His time, in His way, in love and truth. He doesn’t respond to the pressure of those around him who demand he be ‘in touch’ with reality or who ridicule His words of comfort and hope.

How often do we hear these same accusations levelled at the teaching of the Church? Especially when it comes to the Sacraments; or the Church’s teaching on marriage, artificial contraception, abortion, euthanasia, social justice – the list goes on. How often do we hear the Church’s teaching ridiculed; that it is ‘out of touch; insensitive; not in step with the times?’
It is really an affirmation that the Church in her teaching, handed down from Jesus through the Apostles, must be on the right track. Our Lord said that the world will hate those who follow Him, because the world hated Him first. The wisdom of Christ is not restricted to first-century Palestine; His words, teaching, wisdom, and the need for His presence and healing are just as relevant for us today in our ‘here and now.’
His presence in the Sacraments, His words in the Scriptures and His teaching handed down through Sacred Tradition bring healing and bring life.
And in this month where we celebrate the birthday of our country, we need to remember that being faithful to Christ, enables us to be the vehicles of His healing and His life in a world that, at times, seems to want to deny Christians the ability or the right to live out their faith. But as with Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage, Christ – through His Church – will not be prevented from reaching out to those who need Him most. The disbelief, ridicule or dismay of the world, will not prevent Jesus from recognizing His own

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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11th Sunday 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.

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.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) (Year B)

Even in our increasingly secularized society, a society that says there is no place for God in public, day to day life, there still seems to be a rush of excitement when there is the slightest hint of some divine intervention in worldly affairs, no matter how mundane or even ridiculous.  Take for instance, a Florida man who claimed to have seen an image of Jesus in his French toast a few years ago – it received extensive media coverage, and people went in great numbers to web sites to see this marvel; some out of curiosity, some to mock, but some who seemed to need some kind of external sign to validate their faith.

Our society, despite claims to the contrary, seems almost desperate at times to want to see God directly intervening in some public and measurable way.  It seems we forget about all of the miracles that we see every day in our own lives.  Ancient Jewish wisdom held that since the odds were so astronomically against the conception and development of a child in the womb, that each and every birth of a child was truly a miracle, a miracle no less great than the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus out of Egypt. ( so after Mass, make sure you acknowledge the miracle sitting near you)

But as Catholics we have a miracle that occurs each and every time the Holy Mass is celebrated, and perhaps we have become so used to it, so familiar with it, that maybe we have forgotten how miraculous this is:  I’m speaking of course about the Holy Eucharist.  And it is especially on the feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and Blood of Christ – that we remember and celebrate this miracle.

In the Gospel of St. Mark, we read how at the last supper, when Jesus Himself instituted the Eucharist for the first time, he spoke the words ‘This IS my body” and ‘This IS my blood of the covenant”

During the Passover meal the night before He died, Jesus was reflecting on the old covenant, recounted in our first reading from Exodus, when the Israelites, agreeing to keep ALL of God’s commands, offer an animal sacrifice to seal the covenant; and while half of the blood of the sacrifice is splashed on the altar, the other half is sprinkled on the people; so that they carry a visible sign, a mark of their part in this agreement, this covenant with God.

This sign though, was external, and would eventually wash off and fade; as would their keeping of the covenant.

But Jesus offers something different: He fulfils the old covenant by the sacrifice of Himself and introduces the new and everlasting covenant, our return to full relationship with God the Father through the Son; and the people, starting with the disciples, don’t receive a visible mark as in the old covenant; the body and blood of the sacrifice of the New Covenant is given to them and handed down to us: this Body and Blood of the sacrifice is Jesus Himself in Holy Communion.

When He instituted this most Holy Sacrament, He didn’t say ,”this represents my body” or ‘pretend this is my body’ and in 2000 years whenever the Mass is celebrated we still hear those words at the consecration, when the bread and wine become the Real and True Presence in Holy Communion of Jesus.

When we come to the altar, we don’t demand this gift, we are granted this precious favor:  we don’t take Communion – we receive it.

And although we consume the host, it is not just that we take Jesus into ourselves individually; we enter into Christ, into His Body, with everyone else who has received Holy Communion, and we become living signs of that Sacrament and of the New Covenant; or as St. Augustine said, ‘we become what we eat’.

Here’s a sobering thought though:  When we leave the celebration, we take that Real Presence of Christ with us into all the situations we encounter, however we act: when we are harsh with others, when our words are unkind and hurtful, when we use others for our own ends – we bring and expose Christ to that as well:  but it is just as true that when we leave the celebration and are charitable to others, show hospitality to the neglected, feed the hungry, address the needs of the poor in our midst – Christ is with us there too, present in and through us.

And this effect, of bearing Jesus with us after receiving Him in Holy Communion, how long does it last?  Well that depends on the individual and how open we are to the graces of the Sacrament; for some it may be for a lifetime- for others it may be until the next time they receive Holy Communion – for still others it may only be until we get out to the parking lot.  But we can strengthen ourselves in prayer and ask God for the grace to remain always open to the power of this Sacrament.  And we can ask that others too would be graced with that open-ness. And we can be mindful that once we receive that precious gift, it is not something that we celebrate only within the walls of our church building.

There are times or occasions when we can make a more public profession of our faith in the Eucharist, such as at large gatherings like an International Eucharistic Congress; our on a smaller scale, spending time in Adoration to mark this feast of Corpus Christi; perhaps a Eucharistic procession in honor of this feast.

There are some who sneer or mock these gatherings and processions – but we would do well to remember there was a procession 2000 years ago when our Lord was jeered and mocked as he was beaten and driven like an animal through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary where He was crucified for all of us shortly after the Last Supper when he gave us His Body and Blood.

But these processions we participate in are of reverence and adoration; a chance for us to take Jesus outside the walls of the church and make a more public profession that we believe He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament; that this is what we believe; that this is who we are.

This is not just a piece of bread we dress up and parade around with; this is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  This IS Jesus, who gives Himself to us continually in the sacrifice of the Mass, who through the priest at the moment of consecration transforms the bread and wine into Himself and gives Himself to and for us.

This is a miracle of incredible, cosmic proportions and is so far beyond our complete understanding that the term ‘trans-substantiation’ barely reflects the reality of this mystery of our faith. And we should remember that a lack of total understanding in anything does not deny its reality – I can barely understand the principals of nuclear fusion, but I can assure you the sun exists.

So the next time someone questions if God even still intervenes in human affairs, if He still performs miracles, or points to some news of an unlikely miracle, we can invite them to come to Church, where they can witness for themselves the miracle of the Blessed Sacrament; and they- and we- can visit the Real and True Presence of Christ any time we like.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!