20th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

For the past several Sundays, our Gospel reading has focused on chapter 6 of St. John’s gospel, what is often referred to as the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse. This week, we pick up where we left off last week, as Jesus addresses a large crowd, telling them how He is the bread of life, and that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life. This particular chapter speaks a great deal to our understanding of that most sacred of mysteries that we celebrate every time we gather for Holy Mass, the Eucharist. Is it something that is easy for us to grasp? Often times, not in our human understanding. Yet as difficult or challenging as this may be for us, it may be helpful to see how challenging it was when Jesus first shared this teaching.

This crowd that Jesus speaks to is made up not just of people who out of curiosity had come to hear what Jesus had to say; a large number of them were people who considered themselves disciples of Jesus, including the 12 Apostles. These were people who had followed him for some period of time, had heard his teaching, and claimed to be his followers. It’s also important for us to note that the overwhelming majority of the people who heard this teaching, both the curious and disciples, were Jewish; according to their dietary laws, it was forbidden to consume the blood of animals; blood equaled life – and as bad as it would be to consume animal blood, even moreso it would be unthinkable to consume human flesh and blood. These words of Jesus to the crowd were not just surprising or a little bit challenging; they were shocking!

We read how the people started to dispute these words among themselves – and at this point Jesus had the opportunity to step back from the severity of these words, this lesson; but he doesn’t – in fact, he repeats it even more strongly; ‘unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life within you’.

What this is, really, is an ‘all or nothing’ proposition. Jesus invites us through the mystery of the Eucharist to take him into ourselves – body and blood, soul and divinity – and to become so deeply connected and identified with him that we, (as St. Augustine once observed) become what we eat. More properly, it should be we become who we eat. And in his strongly worded teaching, Jesus tells us directly that unless we allow him into the very depth of our being, becoming more closely identified to him, we have no life within us.

Yet he leaves that choice up to us; we can either receive this gift in completeness, or we can reject it. But there is no ‘partial’ acceptance of it – this is not a proposal of percentages. Jesus says either you accept him completely or you don’t. If you would have life, you accept this intimate connection to Him – to reject this intimate connection to him is to reject eternal life. In this discourse his language is rather blunt and rather plain.

How do we respond to this proposal? Do we say, well Jesus was a good teacher, or a nice guy or a great philosopher, but he didn’t really mean what he was saying. Or do we hold to the faith which has been handed down to us from the beginning of the Church, that Jesus was not just a good teacher or a nice guy, but the Son of God ? That he was crucified, died and rose from the dead? As the second person of the Holy Trinity, he has that same creative and restorative power that was present ‘in the beginning’ when all things were made, when all things came to be through God’s word. If we can accept that all things came into being through God’s word, why should we find it so difficult to accept that God the Son would give himself to us repeatedly through the Eucharist, when His creative word is used in the Sacramental action at Mass?

To respond to this offer of Jesus’, it is actually a very simple choice to make; not necessarily easy to live out, but the choice is very simple; we either accept or we don’t. We will be like the crowds depicted in John’s gospel; we may have questions like the people and his disciples, but we will have to decide; do we live in truth and faith, or do we back away because living in truth and faith is simply too much work? We will have a choice to make.

And it truly must be an ‘all or nothing’ response.

But the generosity and goodness of God continues for us even when we struggle to live out this choice – we are graced with the gifts of faith and hope whenever we open ourselves to accept Christ himself, present to us in Holy Communion. If we completely choose Him, then He will not abandon us; when we receive Him, we can be sure that He is really and truly with us, giving us the gift of His Life; that we may carry Him into the world, and beyond, into the eternal life he promises us.

emmaus meal

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

19th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

In life we often have what I call, ‘ready or not, here I come moments,” especially when it comes to the working of God. Sometimes Christ presents Himself directly into our midst – most often when we least expect Him; and at those times we are given a choice – either welcome Him and be present to Him working among us; or reject the possibility that He can move and work among us in a manner of His choosing and in His time.

If I may, I had one of those moments in 2012 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

I was scheduled to assist at one of the Masses, serving and proclaiming the Gospel. The Mass was in a stadium with about 8 or 9 thousand pilgrims in attendance. This was more than I had hoped for on this pilgrimage, and I was thrilled to receive such a blessing and opportunity.

But it was several hours after that Mass, when preparations were underway for the Eucharistic Procession, one of the main events of the Congress. For those who aren’t familiar with the procession, it is where the Blessed Sacrament, in a monstrance, is carried formally through the Congress complex, and then into the streets of the city hosting the event.

The Blessed Sacrament is preceded by thousands of pilgrims, people stand and watch from the sides of the streets, and under a canopy, the monstrance is carried for the adoration of all who are present. Official estimates suggest there was anywhere from 18 to 20 thousand people participating in the procession, along with about 100 cardinals, bishops and archbishops, over 800 priests and 50 to 100 deacons.

Cardinal Ouellette was the Papal legate for the Congress, and as such was representing Pope Benedict XVI. As the senior prelate, He was to carry Jesus in the procession; in the few minutes before the procession was to take place, the liturgical secretary from Dublin archdiocese came up to me, grabbed me by the arm, and said I had to come with him. He needed a deacon, and I was still there. Next thing I knew, I was being vested in a small room, and told I and another deacon would be assisting the Papal legate in the procession.

As we progressed through the congress complex, and just before we started into the public area, the cardinal indicated he was tiring, carrying the monstrance. The liturgical secretary motioned me to come forward, under the canopy – Cardinal Ouellette then handed the monstrance to me, and then – and it still seems like a dream these years later– I carried Jesus through the streets of Dublin.

Some of the pilgrims from our group were very happy for me and quite excited!

A few people who have known me for awhile were somewhat stunned – ‘you? They picked you to carry the Blessed Sacrament in this procession? Shouldn’t it have been someone else – maybe more important?”

I can assure you, no one was more stunned than I was. But the reality is that I was not providing the blessing of the people at this procession of about 18 thousand people: I was only an instrument, carrying Jesus in the Eucharist, and He Himself was blessing the crowd. But what a privilege to be such an instrument!

Sometimes we think that Christ cannot possibly be present in those around us, because we know them too well; at other times, we have a hard time considering Christ is at work in us, because – well- we don’t feel ‘worthy’.

Elijah in our first reading echoes this sentiment, when – after performing an amazing work for God – he says, ‘I am no better than my ancestors.’

In our Gospel, we hear the crowd again complaining against Jesus, this time for saying He is the bread come down from heaven. “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph? ‘ They say, ‘we know who this man is – how can he now say ‘I have come down from heaven?”

Jesus reveals his true nature to them; yet they are so stuck in their personal experience of who they think Jesus is that they can’t see beyond that – they can’t consider that Jesus is more than who they think He is. This is too great a challenge to their faith and so rather than consider a wonder of truly cosmic proportions happening in their midst, they choose instead to complain and to limit Jesus to who they think He is or should be.

They refuse to be open to the possibility that God is directly intervening in their reality, in their daily life.

Every day we are given opportunities to be witnesses to the involvement of God in our daily lives. Each day were are called to bring Christ to others, and to be open to accepting Christ when he appears to us – when he appears to us in the poor and the sick and the neglected– or comes to comfort and strengthen us in the words and actions of others.

We can’t plan these times or opportunities; we have to be open to participating in them though when they do happen. We need to understand that the Christ we receive in the Eucharist at Mass is truly Jesus – and in a very real and intimate way we take Him with us from this place, and bring Him out into the streets of our own communities – we are invited to be present with Him and to Him wherever and whenever he makes Himself known;

whether we are ready or not.

adoration

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

18th Sunday 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.

adoration

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Holy Thursday (Year A)

Sharing a meal is a gesture of closeness, and in itself carries a certain vulnerability among people – whether they be family or friends. Often we feel comfortable enough in saying things or sharing feelings or ideas that we wouldn’t speak in another more public setting. There is a certain intimacy in this eating together. Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, when we begin the Easter Triduum, the ‘three great days.” At the heart of this entire celebration is the understanding that it is all about God’s faithfulness to His promises; of His constant invitation to humanity to enter in a close relationship; into a deep intimacy with God. Why not, then, use the setting of an intimate gathering of family or close friends to relate this message.

We are reminded of the first Passover meal recorded in our first reading from the book of Exodus; the ‘last supper’ the children of Israel would eat before God, using Moses, led them out of slavery in Egypt. As great a miracle as this was, accompanied by all sorts of signs and wonders, pillars of fire and the parting of the sea, it was really a living prophecy of a greater miracle yet to come centuries later; when God through the person of Jesus, would lead all of His children out of slavery to sin and death, into eternal freedom as adopted sons and daughters.

The Passover meal becomes a powerful symbol of the relationship of God with the children of Israel; this last supper in slavery is an invitation to a relationship of total dependence on God – of complete intimate trust.

It is quite fitting, then, that the fulfillment of the covenant; of God dwelling among His people in the person of Jesus, should reach its completion in history during a commemoration of the Passover. And yet, even within the ‘Last Supper’ of Jesus with his disciples, while the events themselves are straightforward enough, we can reflect on each word, each movement and draw deeper insight and understanding.

It is only in St. John’s Gospel which we read tonight, that the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus is recorded. It’s important to note that in middle Eastern culture – then as now – feet are probably the most ‘undignified’ part of the body. In fact, it is considered very rude to sit in such a way as to show the soles of your feet to your host when sitting in their company; that’s why often when we see news photos of a deposed dictator or leader in the middle East, people are often striking the portraits of these leaders with the soles of their shoes – it is a display of contempt.

So we get a bit of an insight as to how ‘shocking’ or ‘out of the ordinary’ this movement of Jesus is: we see that He is inviting the disciples into an object lesson – that the one who would be his disciple must serve – and not from some great or lofty place – but placing themselves in the most lowly of positions. Jesus the teacher or master, removes his outer garments, his robes – his sign of authority and Lordship if you will – wraps a towel around himself and picks up a basin of water to wash his disciples’ feet; here the host of the Passover meal, is placing himself in the very undignified position of the lowest of household servants or slaves – doing a job that even most household servants would consider ‘beneath their dignity’; here, the Son of God lowers himself to lead back to God the very creatures who fell from grace through their own disobedience; here, the Lord of Glory will shed his divinity, and in his humanity sacrifice Himself, allowing His creatures to brutally torture and kill Him, in order to restore humanity to its original relationship with God.

As Jesus is moving from disciple to disciple, washing their feet, Peter expresses his discomfort with the actions of Jesus – ‘you shall never wash my feet’- Peter has professed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God; as the Messiah – and while we’re not given Peter’s interior motives for his resistance to having his feet washed by Jesus, we can draw perhaps a couple of possibilities for our own reflection;

He sees Jesus’ actions as socially improper and certain to lead to misunderstanding – He is, after all , their Lord, and for Him to strike such an undignified pose is disturbing enough, but it could leave Peter – and the others- wondering where is He going with this? It could be that Peter is uncomfortable watching his Lord humiliating himself in front of the other disciples.

It could also be that Peter is uncomfortable with the intimacy and vulnerability that he is being invited into at this moment by Jesus.

But it is exactly this vulnerability and intimacy that we are all invited into by Jesus Himself. In the Holy Eucharist He gives Himself to us, to be taken and eaten and so to become one with us. Jesus entering into our personal reality and we entering into His reality – This is not some ‘metaphor’ or a symbolic gesture; this is the meaning in what our Catholic faith has always taught and believed; that Jesus is really and truly present in Holy Communion; this is what was meant in the words recorded in the gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke and summarized in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians,” This is my body that is for you.” And it is in this Passover meal, the ‘last supper’ that this most Holy Sacrament is instituted by Christ himself, for all time. It is also in this meal that Jesus institutes the Sacramental Priesthood, and we see how intimately connected these sacraments are – the Holy Eucharist to the Priesthood; both mark a total surrender of self to God for the good of all people. It is in this sacrament that the priest, configured to Christ the High Priest, by joining into the eternal sacrifice of Christ, offers that sacrifice of Himself for all people for all time. (that is what is meant by the priest acting ‘in persona Christi” – in the person of Christ, as Christ the High Priest. The deacon, of course, being configured to Christ the Servant, as reflected in this gospel passage of the washing of the feet.)

Being open to that intimacy requires each of us to become vulnerable – and becoming vulnerable is very contrary to our human nature. But Jesus gives yet another example of vulnerability. In a few hours, he is vulnerable to receiving the ultimate gesture of love from a close friend – a kiss – but it is in receiving this gesture of intimacy that He will be betrayed. Yet he does not turn aside from this openness. And He invites us into this vulnerability. It is in that vulnerability; that humility – that Jesus walks with us. To be his true disciples, we must imitate the Master; and while it does not necessarily mean we have to wander around looking for peoples’ feet to wash, it does mean opening ourselves to a life of service to God and to others; it means a shift in attitude from a sense of superiority to a sense of solidarity; rather than thinking of reaching down to help others up, it is a matter of lowering our “selves” to journey upward together with our brothers and sisters; the poor, the sick, the marginalized – it means admitting our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities and sharing in the sorrows and sufferings and the struggles of all those around us. Sometimes it even means allowing others to serve us, as well as for us to serve them. It means doing all of this for the love of a God who holds nothing back in His love for us.

It means that if we would truly be Jesus’ followers; then to open our hearts in humble service to others is not really something that is a burden; it’s an honour in which we are invited to imitate Our Lord and Master and so live intimately with our God.

adoration

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!