Sunday, July 29, 2018

Become Part of the Miracle!

The Catholic Liturgy for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 29, 2018. 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Gospel of John 6:1-15. Theme: Become Part of the Miracle!

The multiplication of the loaves and fish is one of the most popular of Jesus’ miracles, and it is the only one recorded in all 4 gospels. John, whose Gospel we heard today, sees these miracles as signs: signs to us of who Jesus is, signs of what He does for us and signs of what He calls us to become.

Ever since the first days of Christianity, the miracle-story of the loaves has always been seen as a sign of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It’s easy to see the connection: in this Gospel story, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks to God the Father, blesses it and distributes it as miracle-bread among the people. The left-over fragments are gathered up after everyone is fed. By eating this bread, the people came to recognize Jesus as their long-hoped-for king.

In the Mass, Jesus does the very same thing through the instrumentality of the priest: the celebrant takes bread and gives thanks to God the Father, he blesses it and it is distributed among the people as the miracle-bread of the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of the Christ. The remaining hosts are gathered up after everyone is spiritually fed. By eating this Bread of Life, we come to recognize the Risen Lord Jesus truly living within us.

But there’s more to the Eucharist than just the miraculous transformation of bread into Jesus’ Real Presence.  And there’s more to the Eucharist than just taking and eating. The Eucharist, received with a living faith and a real devotion to Christ, opens our eyes to see His presence in the poor and needy and to do what we can to relieve their suffering. Just as Jesus did what He could - with what he had - to minister to the needs of that hungry crowd on the grassy hills by the Sea of Galilee.

And this is where Jesus invites us, as He invited the Apostles and the young boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish to become part of the process, part of the miracle.  But it is up to each of us if we are going to have the reaction of Philip, of the response of Andrew.
     Philip told Jesus that this was basically an impossible task. No way could they feed so huge a crowd. Philip was defeated before he even began. Andrew, on the other hand, found a boy with some food – meager as it was – and brought it to Jesus. In effect he said, “Here is all I have, Lord, but we know you can use it.”

This is exactly how Jesus invites us to serve others.  He asks only that we have confident-faith like St. Andrew’s, trusting that He can and will make use of us, of our talents, our desires, our willingness to be of service.  He doesn’t force us, He simply provides the opportunity to serve.  And like St. Andrew, Jesus wants us to bring Him whatever we have – whatever talents and desires we have, because nothing is too small or insignificant for Him to transform into something beautiful for God.

(Tell story of the pro-liffe counselor. To hear story choose the audio version of this homily.)

So, you see, when these two things come together – confident-faith and willingness to serve – everyday mini-miracles can happen through ordinary Christians like us.  Smiles can take away tears on the faces of the suffering;  serenity can replace complaining on the lips of the hurting;  a ray of hope can brighten the gloom of the sad and lonely; a sense of dignity can overcome the self-embarrassment of a dirty street person;
·       and the desire to keep on living just might return to someone who thought it best to end it all.

But these everyday miracles can only happen is we – both you and I – truly become Eucharistic people living out what both the Eucharist and the miracle of the loaves mean: that each of us become like bread broken and shared, become part of that on-going miracle, so that those we serve might come to recognize in Jesus of Nazareth the One who satisfies their deepest hunger and needs.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Who's Your Shepherd?

The Catholic Liturgy for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 22, 2018. Gospel: Mark 6:30-34. Theme: Who’s Your Shepherd?

It’s pretty basic fact of nature that sheep are among the most dependent of livestock. They are quite vulnerable without a shepherd and become easy prey for their enemies such as wolves and thieves. They are trained to recognize the voice of their own shepherd, so when others call after them they can become bewildered, confused and wander.  St. Mark’s Gospel describes the crowds of people who thronged to Jesus as being like those sheep, of being “shepherdless”. They were without leadership in many ways, political and religious.  

That’s why today’s Gospel says about Jesus that “…his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” And the teachings of Jesus were simple and to the point; demanding, yes, but not oppressive. They brought freedom of heart and joy of spirit.

In today’s world, we also have social, political and even religious leaders who do not care about our ultimate well-being in mind, body and soul. Through the means of highly developed technology, with all its glitz and glamour and lots of fake news and advertising skills, we can so easily become used and confused by them, like those sheep without a shepherd.  We might think we are smart enough to recognize the fake voices of these false shepherds, but it’s not so easy, considering that we have been hearing their message for years as it is daily pumped into homes, our cars, our schools, our ears, our heads. These false shepherds promote their carefully crafted politically correct propaganda without any concern or regard for us as individuals or as human beings:

·       Celebrities and media that constantly shove before our faces cosmetically-or digitally enhanced “beautiful people” as the ideal picture-perfect humans.
·       Manufacturers who spend billions of dollars to convince us that we will be so much happier if we are always buying the newest, or the biggest, or the best.
·       Schools and sports teams that guilt parents into overloading their children with activities, robbing them of the chance to enjoy just being kids, and of the family its precious opportunities to enjoy quality time together.
·       Cultural and social agendas that try and convince us that the human race has been confused and wrong about gender, marriage and family for thousands of years.
      So many false voices…so many fake shepherds.

Today’s Gospel places before us an important question that each one of us needs to truly ponder and honestly ask ourselves. Who is my shepherd? That is, who is that I listen to, admire and follow? Who do I look to as a pattern for the way I want to shape and live my life? Whose example and words do I take as my own to give meaning and intention to my life?  For those who call themselves Christian, the answer must be Jesus Christ. If it is not, if we seek our primary inspiration and guidance from anyone or anything else, then we need to find a different name for ourselves.

And if we are going to take ownership of the name of Christian, then we must learn to make time every day to spend with Jesus and expose our minds and hearts to His word. There is no other way to remain unscathed by the false shepherds who want to scatter the flock.  

And so Jesus teaches us…

·       He teaches us to pray and build a personal relationship with Him.
·       He teaches us to trust in Him and his plan for our lives.
·       He teaches us to encounter Him in the Gospels so that we can learn to recognize His voice, be inspired by His example, and live His words.
·   He teaches us to come to Him really personally present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist so that He can live with us and within us.

·       He teaches us to come to his Sacred Heart, which is moved to the very depths of His gut with love for us, and there we will always find serenity and peace in the midst of so many false promises and so much fake news.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Called and Chosen

The Catholic Liturgy for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 15, 2018. Amos 7:12-15, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:7-13. Theme: Called and Chosen.

Have you ever wondered why it is that out of the billions of people who inhabit planet Earth, you and I have been gifted with the Christian Faith? How is it that we are among the 30% of the world’s population that has received the grace and faith of baptism?  This is the great mystery of being called and chosen by God, to be a people uniquely His own, and it is what today’s readings are all about.  

In the first reading we encounter Amos minding his own business as a shepherd and gardener when suddenly God calls him to become one of his chosen prophets. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that we have been blessed by Christ and chosen in Him to become God’s holy people, destined for Heaven.  The Gospel shows us the twelve apostles who were just ordinary guys with everyday jobs mostly as fishermen, one of them a greedy tax collector. They had wives and families and were living pretty much just like us. They were no better than most other people. And yet they were called and chosen to carry on Jesus’ powerful ministry of preaching, healing the sick and expelling demons.

This mystery of God’s calling and choosing brings to mind a powerful experience from my childhood.  If you were like me then you might recall how the neighborhood kids would gather in a local field for a game of ball. The older guys, the jocks of the neighborhood, were of course always the captains. The rest of us wannabes lined up for the ritual of choosing up sides. I could hit the ball pretty well but couldn’t run to save my life. While my typical at bat could send the ball far into the outfield, I’d be lucky to pull a single out of what most guys could turn into a double or, for the fastest, maybe a triple. And so, I dreaded those line-ups before my peers.

But there was this one guy, a jock named Charles, who even at our young age stood head over shoulders above the rest of us. No one dared to question his choices or doubt his selections.  Whenever I saw Charles take up a captain’s spot I got a huge smile on my face. You see, I knew that whenever Charles was captain I was safe. No, he wouldn’t pick me in the first couple rounds (the guy was after all a jock and he wanted to win for goodness sakes!) but I knew I that wouldn’t be standing there as the last pick of the day either. Why did he do it? Why did he risk the game at least somewhat? The only answer I could come up with is that he was just that kind of guy, with a heart as big as his muscles.

As I got older I outgrew the field games, I never outgrew the memory of Charles and his kindness in calling and choosing. And I think that is probably the best we can also say about why God calls and choses us. Simply because He’s that kind of God, who has a big heart, an infinite Sacred Heart. He sees us standing there like those kids in the field, but this time in the great lineup of humanity, and He looks us over…

He sees our whole lives from beginning to end and everything in between; He sees the ups and the downs, the pluses and the minuses.  He sees the emptiness, the hole in our hearts that everyone has that can only be filled by His love, even though we all try to fill it with so many other things…And in all this I think He sees that most of all, we just need to know that we are loved so much by Him…and that each of us just needs to know that we are personally called and chosen by Him.

This calling and choosing by God transforms us spiritually, from the inside out, and by God’s free choice it makes us His very adopted sons and daughters, potential heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and anointed temples of the Holy Spirit - living-proof of the love of God among those with whom we live, work and socialize. 

This is what it means to be called and chosen.

This is what it means to be a Christian.