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“The Church’s Birth and Foundation” – Holy Hour Homily

Homily for September 2018 Holy Hour
Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
John 19:28-37

The first reading tonight tells the story of Pentecost.  It can be a spectacular scene to image.  I think the Hollywood special effects crews could have fun with the noise of the “strong driving wind” and the “tongues of fire” that came down on each of the disciples.

These are signs of the Holy Spirit filling the hearts of the disciples.  The Holy Spirit comes to begin the work of the Church.  Thus, Pentecost is often seen as the birth of the Church.  As a sign that the Church is for all, the people present then each hear the disciples speaking in their own language.  The Christian faith is meant not just for the Jews but for all regardless of where a person is from or what language they speak.  We just need to listen to the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, we don’t always listen.

Our gospel scene takes us back 52 days before Pentecost to Good Friday.  This reading is just a small part of the Passion of Jesus as told in John’s Gospel.  Picture it in the context of how Jesus was arrested, put on trial, mocked, and scourged.  After all this, Jesus dies.  His last words before handing over his spirit are “It is finished.

This is not simply a statement that his earthly life is over.  Rather, he “finished” the mission for which he came.  He came proclaiming the gospel and concluded the “good news” of the gospel by giving his life for us on the Cross.

That said, the reason I picked this gospel is what happened after Jesus died but still hung upon the Cross.  The “soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.”

Like Pentecost, this is also seen as the “birth of the Church.”  Jesus has completed his mission and now the Church flows from his side.

Rather than look at the Church as having two births, I think this points to how we need to look at scripture as a united text and the events as united.  Before the Holy Spirit could come at Pentecost Jesus had to first come as the foundation.

This leads us to our psalm response, “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”  This psalm would have been written centuries before Jesus, yet He fulfills it as He becomes the foundation upon which we now build our faith.  The Lord is always our refuge.  Jesus is our foundation and the Holy Spirit leads us in the ways of the Father.

Unfortunately, we don’t always listen to the Spirit.  This is true for us as individuals when we choose sin.  We can also see in the history of the Church that those who lead have not always listened to the Spirit.  We see this currently in the abuse cover-up.

Today, for so many people the focus is on themselves.  When asked to do something these people in turn ask, “What’s in it for me?”  That’s the wrong question!

We are not isolated individuals.  We are part of something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

As Paul writes, “For in one Spirt we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Sometimes we sin because we try to do everything ourselves but we are not meant to go it alone.  God did not give all gifts to any one person.

Paul uses the analogy of the human body help us understand this.  The human body is made up of many parts, eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet and each part has a different role to play.  When all the parts of the body work together, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

When one part of the body fails to do its part, it affects the other parts.  When one of us sins, it can affect others.  That’s why we cannot turn a blind eye to sin.  When we see sin, we, as individuals and as a Church, must ask the Holy Spirit to know if we are to respond.  If we are to respond, then we ask the Holy Spirit to govern what the response is.

The Church began as the blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side on the Cross.  The Church came to action at Pentecost as the Spirit came down on the disciples.  The Church continues today led by the Spirit.  We just need to listen to know how we are called to be the Body of Christ.

 

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 50:5-9a
Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 (9)
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35
September 16, 2018

Jesus had been doing miracles, curing people and driving out demons.  He had also been preaching.  Certainly, the miracles attracted crowds but what do the people think of Jesus beyond looking for miracles?

With this in mind, Jesus asked his disciples a simple question, “Who do people say that I am?”  The words of the question are simple but its meaning goes much deeper.  “They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”

While we know none of these answers are right, what is important is that the people were indeed talking about who Jesus is.  Everything Jesus has done is meant to point people to know who he truly is.

If Jesus asked you today “who do you say that I am?,” how would you answer?  Is Jesus just a wise man (prophet)?  Do you seek Jesus as a miracle worker who can get rid of all your problems?  Is He a teacher?  Is He a moral authority?

Jesus went on to ask his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?

Of course, Peter is the one to respond and he gives the right answer, “You are the Christ.”  Today we say “Jesus Christ” as if “Christ” was Jesus’ last name.  It is not.  It is a title.  It means “messiah.”  Peter realizes that Jesus is the one that the Jews have been waiting 1,000 years for.

Of course, we know that Jesus is indeed the messiah, the Christ they had been waiting for.  What does it mean to call Jesus “the Christ”?

Peter held to the common Jewish expectation of the time that the messiah would become a great political king, get rid of the Romans, and restore the political kingdom of Israel.  Jesus is the messiah but He did none of these things.

Yet this is what Peter expects.  So, when Jesus begins to teach them about his coming Passion, that He “must suffer greatly…be rejected…and be killed,” it made no sense to Peter.  In fact, it sounds impossible.  Peter would not let this happen.  He rebuked Jesus.  How can he go from calling Jesus “the Christ” to rebuking him so quickly?

It’s because of Peter’s expectations.  We have own expectations.  Do our expectations of God keep us from really knowing God or are we open to allowing God to change what we think and what we expect?

A key component for many people today regarding whether they believe in God at all or what they expect centers on the question of suffering.  Some people will do anything possible to escape suffering.  I think some people might actually put more effort into getting rid of their suffering than it would take to accept the suffering and live through it.

It isn’t hard to imagine why Peter and the others can’t understand how or why the messiah would suffer.  We might imagine that God would make it easy for the messiah.

They did not understand how the prophecies foretelling of a “suffering servant” applied to Jesus.  Perhaps we could even say they didn’t want the suffering servant oracles to apply to a messiah.  They based their hope on the relief of suffering.

Jesus does something different.  He shows us a value in suffering.  Why did Jesus come?  It was not to set the Jews free from the Romans but rather to set us all free from our sins.  Jesus came to bring us a new perspective.

Instead of seeking greatness and release from suffering, Jesus tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

To deny ourselves is to let go of our desire for selfish desire for wealth and power.  It is to put others before ourselves.  Jesus is the perfect example of this.  He had nothing to gain for himself by becoming human.  He became human to “take up his cross” so that our sins might be forgiven.

In doing so, Jesus showed us the way to the Father and calls us to take up our own crosses as witnesses to our faith in God.  To trust in God requires us to let him shape us and be our motivation.

James speaks of faith and works.  Many people have a misunderstanding that Catholics think our works alone can save us.  That is not Catholic teaching.  What our Catholic faith does teach us is that if we have true faith in Jesus, then in practicing that faith we will do works because of our faith.

How do you think your life is different because of your faith in Jesus?  Does it change your view of suffering?  Sometimes at the end of a day, I lie in my bed with the light on staring at the crucifix that hangs on the wall.  I start “complaining” to God about the bad parts of my day.  In doing so, I am complaining about my “sufferings.”  As I stare at the crucifix complaining, I look at Jesus’ suffering on the cross and realize I have nothing (well maybe a little) to complain about.

Recognizing this leads me to begin to accept the suffering I face as part of the works I am to do to serve God.  What works do your faith call you to do?

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10a
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37
September 9, 2018

Many times we hear of “crowds” that come to Jesus.  The Jews had been waiting for a 1,000 years for a messiah who was the heir of David.  So, some of the Jews were coming to him to see if he could be the one.

We would expect Jesus to draw a crowd in Jewish territory.  Today we hear that Jesus has travelled “into the district of the Decapolis.”  This would be a Roman territory.  So the people would not be Jewish.  Yet, even there word has spread about Jesus.

The people had heard about the miracles Jesus did, driving out demons and curing people.  So, the local people brought to Jesus “a deaf man who had a speech impediment,” seeking a miracle by asking Jesus “to lay his hand on him.”

The laying of hands is a gesture of invoking God’s grace on the person.  Jesus does heal the man but not quite in the way they expected.  The laying of hands involves “touch” symbolizing care.

With compassion, Jesus touches the man but in a different way than expected.   Rather than simply lay his hands on the man’s head, Jesus put “his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue.”  His contact with the man is at the point of the man’s impairments, his deafness in his ears and his speech impediment on his tongue.

Jesus does more.  He “looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha” – that is, “Be opened.”  Jesus speaks one word, “Ephphatha” and the man is immediately healed.

Imagine how the man must have felt!  How much he might have had to say!  Where might he begin?

He began by, despite Jesus direction “not to tell anyone,” by going out and telling everyone he could find.  He did this in joy.  He did this in gratitude for his healing.  The man who had been deaf and unable to speak proclaimed the good news.

Are you deaf?  If you are hearing what I am saying, you must have some hearing ability but how good?  As we get older, we can have diminished physical hearing.  They have wonderful hearing aids to help with this but the point I really want to get to is do we hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us.  Physical hearing aids (like the one I am wearing) aren’t the solution here.

What keeps us from hearing the Holy Spirit speaking to us, from hearing God whispering in our “ears”?  Are we too busy with earthly activities to hear Jesus?  Do we fill our entire day with earthly activities whether it be a job, school, sports, and/or plays?

Even when we hear the sound of Christian words, are we listening?

For example, there are a couple of Christian radios stations in the area.  Depending on where you live you might even be able to get a Catholic radio station out of Rochester.  Perhaps you turn it on for the Christian music.  Are you listening to the music or the Christian message?

Right now you found time to come to church.  You have heard the sound of God’s words in the scripture but were you listening?  Right now, you hear the sound emitting from my mouth but do you hear what the Spirit is saying to you?

We need to ask Jesus to help us open our ears to hear what God is saying to us in the readings, in music, and through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ last words to his disciples before ascending told them to go out and proclaim the good news.  To do so, we must first listen to God’s Word for ourselves.  This means opening our ears.

Remember the word that Jesus spoke to the deaf man?  Ephphatha!  When we do a baptism at Mass, the last words I use at the end of the baptism are “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak.  May he soon touch years to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God.”

Baptism is a beginning, not an end.  We have much to learn.  Confirmation is a stepping stone.  It is not a completion of our Catholic education.  God still has move to reveal to us.  What you know, what I know with a Master of Divinity is only a beginning.  It is not just learning commandments to list.  It is to find their meaning and take it into our hearts.  It is to seek to live them out.

Continuing our Catholic “education” begins in continuing to come to Mass where God’s Word is proclaimed and explained.  Can you do more?  For instance, we know we are supposed to forgive but what does this mean?  In the first week of October, I will be doing a talk on forgiveness.

May the Lord help you to listen to his words with your mind and your soul.  May you then in turn share God’s words with others in what you do and say.

Jesus healed the man of his deafness and speech impediment.  He wants to do the same for us on a much deeper level.

 

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5 (1a)
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
September 2, 2018

Beginning today and for the next few weeks our second reading comes from the Letter of James.  Often scripture talks in terms of faith, faith that is a gift from God, a gift that is a treasure.  Today, James talks about “religion,” religion “that is pure and undefiled before God.”

Today people talk about “religion” and “spirituality” as two different things.  For those who don’t come to church but profess a belief in God, they describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.”  For them, this means they believe in God but don’t follow any one particular denomination or attend Mass.  They say they pray in their own way.  For many of them, “religion” is about the institution instead of faith in God.  For them, the institution has too many rules.

Certainly, there are people whose knowledge of the Catholic Church centers on rules and practices.  We have lots of teaching but not to have a volume of teaching.  The Catholic Church does not seek to add new commandments.  That would go against what Moses said in our first reading, “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.”  People who focus on the rules of the Catholic Church believe we have added to what Moses taught.  That is never our goal.  The purpose is help us apply our faith in our world today.

Think of it this way, these words of Moses not to add to what was commanded came before King David and any of the prophets.  The prophets were sent by God not to add to what God had already commanded but to help people live it out.

Nonetheless, people think the Catholic Church has too many “rules.”  I think some of them look for the least they have to do, almost to the extent of subtracting from God’s commandments.

Moses told the people that if they follow God’s commandments, it would give evidence of their wisdom and intelligence to the nations.  When we understand them properly and apply them to our lives today, the commandments are good for us.  We should ask ourselves if we sometimes get caught up in “tradition” and forget the meaning behind the custom and/or teaching?

Unfortunately, we do.  Unfortunately, that is not our biggest problem today.  When James spoke of “religion,” he included, “pure and undefiled before God.”  Right now we face turmoil in our Church because of sin and error that leaves the earthly institution of the church “unpure” and “defiled.”  Instead of looking wise and intelligence, we look like hypocrites because of a few clergy who chose to sin in abusing children and those who made a terrible decision to cover it up.  What they did was wrong.  If you have been the victim of this, I am sorry.  There is no excuse.

Recognizing this, Bishop Matano has called for “A Day of Penance by Priests” on September 14th, which is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  That’s a Friday so we won’t normally have a Mass.  However, for that day, we will have Mass at 12:10 pm in the chapel with a Rosary before and confessions afterwards.  The details will be in next week’s bulletin.

Grave sin has been committed.  Innocent people suffer from the abuse.  First and foremost, we must pray for them and see that they get the compassion and help they need.

Only then do we ask, “Can the Church survive this?”  To answer this we need to think of “church” on two levels.  First, is the institutional church as we experience it on earth.  It is where we learn about God’s commandments and how He calls us to live.  It is where we come together to worship God as a community.  On a higher level, “Church” is not just a human institution.  The Church is established by God to be his instrument and Church is the bride of Christ.

The birth of the Church happened as the blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side on the Cross.  The human/institutional church developed over time, led by the Holy Spirit.  The human church falters when it does not listen to God.

Can the Church survive?  Yes, but not based on human thought but because Jesus chooses to make the Church his bride.  The church as we experience it on Earth has faced sin and corruption before.  It has always survived.  We see over and over in the Old Testament how the people sinned and, when they repented, God our Father restored what has been damaged by sin.

There is hope because Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.

The Holy Spirit is always ready to lead us to what God calls us to be.  We just need to listen.  God never turns away from us  It is we who turn away from him in our sin.

So, what are we to do?  I wish I could fix everything about the clergy abuse scandal but I don’t have the answers.  I have been thinking and praying a lot about this scandal in recent weeks.  It is hard to believe what has surfaced lately.  I don’t have the answers but I know God does.

That is why the most important thing everyone needs to do is to listen to God.  That means prayer.  We need to stop worrying about how this makes us “look”, help those who suffer, and focus on being who God calls us to be.  Again, it begins with prayer.

Does prayer really work?  It did for St. Monica.  Last Monday we celebrated her feast day.  She was a Catholic Christian but married a non-believer.  Her son Augustine was raised not believing in Jesus.  She prayed for thirty years for his conversion.  He had dabbled in other religions and lived an immoral life until St. Monica’s prayers were finally answered.  We celebrated his feast day on Tuesday.  He became Catholic, a bishop, doctor of the church, and a saint.

So, conversion is possible.  It was for St. Augustine and it is for us.

Please pray.  As Bishop Matano wrote this week, pray for “the innocent victims of clergy sexual abuse, the faith of our people, the purification of the Church and the renewal of the clergy.”

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (9a)
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58
August 19, 2018

Last week we heard about how the Jews murmured about Jesus saying, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They thought it was impossible for him to have come down from Heaven because they knew him as son of Joseph and Mary.

This week we hear the that “The Jews quarreled among themselves,” because Jesus told them that he will give his “flesh for the life of the world.”  This didn’t make sense to them.  How could he do this?  Why would he want to?  Even if he could, taking at face value, it would sound like cannibalism.  That’s disgusting.

Jesus goes on to say that we must “drink his blood.”  That too would seem disgusting.  Speaking in terms of the Jewish law, Deuteronomy 12:23 prohibited the drinking of the blood of the animals.  To do so was to take on the life force of the animal.

This is exactly why we need to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood but not in the sense that the Jews are thinking.  We come to receive the Eucharist to become more like Jesus.

Before we fault the Jews for not getting this, we need to realize that they do not have the perspective that we have.  We know what Jesus is talking about to be the Eucharist.  The Jews knew nothing of the Eucharist as the bread of life.  How could Jesus’ words to eat his flesh and drink his blood make sense to anyone except in the light of the Eucharist.

Many will leave from the crowd and turn to their former way of life because of their inability to understanding what Jesus says his Bread of Life Discourse.  I wonder why they never said to Jesus, “What do you mean?  This makes no sense to us.”

Wisdom starts with admitting that we don’t know everything.  Do we understand all that Jesus says?  Do we really think that we can fully comprehend God, God who is infinite, God who is all-knowing?

I don’t think so.  We need to open ourselves to “make the most of the opportunity” that God gives us to “not continue in ignorance.”  So, we must “try to understand what is the will of the LORD.

Yet, we must accept that we will not always understand.  Some of the people left because they did not understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

I think the same is true today.  Many of those who leave the Catholic Church do so because they don’t understand the mysteries of our faith.  People want clear and factual knowledge.

There is no clear and factual knowledge of how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus.  There is no change in what we see or the chemical make-up of the bread and wine.

That’s because the change does not happen on a physical level.  We are called to believe in the mystery of the Eucharist not because of scientific evidence but because of Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper when he said, “this is my body….this is my blood.”

Why does he give us his flesh and blood?  Again, the answer comes in Jesus’ own words, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  The food we most need is food for eternal life, food for our soul.

It takes an act of faith.  Next week we will hear that many of the disciples left because they couldn’t understand.  When Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave? Simon Peter answered, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.

Peter didn’t understand but he did believe.  We are called to do the same.

What we celebrate in the Eucharist is a mystery.  We come into the church from a physical world.  In faith we are called to look beyond the physical.  We may not understand the Real Presence in human terms.  Even before we come to the Eucharist, we might struggle some to understand what we hear in the readings at Mass.  What does this mean for us today?

To open ourselves to what God offers us at Mass, I encourage you to put a little preparation into it.  Look at the readings before or after Mass and ask God to help you understand.  I encourage you to come early enough for Mass to say a prayer before we Mass begins to ask God to help you open yourself to what He offers you.  We come here in faith but a faith that might not be perfect.  When your faith seems weak, pray the words of the father of the boy with the demon, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

It is Jesus in the Eucharist!

Why Is It Hard to Forgive?

As Christians we are called to be people of forgiveness.  Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We acknowledge our need to be forgiven and we pledge to offer the same to others.

Yet we find forgiving others (and ourselves) can be a challenge, especially when the same person keeps offending us in the same way over and over.  In today’s gospel (8/16/18 – Thursday of 19th Week in Ordinary Time), Peter offers to forgive as many as seven times.  He probably feels pretty good about this as old Hebrew texts refer to forgiving three times.  Is Jesus impressed?  No, he replies, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Wow!  That’s a lot but think about it, how many times have you asked God to forgive you?  If you want to be forgiven so many times, shouldn’t you offer the same to others?

What does it mean to forgive?  Often people think it means forgetting.  With the little things I think part of forgiving can be forgetting.  It isn’t worth remembering.  On the other hard, “the big things” might seem too big to forget.  The hurt is too much.

Forgiving is not about making amends.  We need to make amends wherever possible but forgiveness really becomes important when amends can’t be made.  We see that in today’s gospel.  Forgiveness really becomes very important when we have been hurt.

When we have been hurt, we want to put all the blame and responsibility on the other person.  (I’ll throw in here that we must always consider if we have some responsibility for what has happened).  We think it is for them to beg for our forgiveness.  That would make us feel justified for the way we feel.

While we may never forget, forgiveness does mean letting go of the hurt.  Otherwise, the “hurt” controls us.  We might think of forgiveness as only beneficial to the person who has done the wrong.  Forgiveness is also beneficial to the “victim.”  Forgiving and letting go of the hurt makes it possible for the “victim” to move on.  It makes it possible for us to love as Jesus love.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

P.S.  As of today (8/16/18), my next presentation will center on forgiveness with a title of “Why Is It So Hard to Forgive Myself (and others)?”  It’s scheduled for Wednesday, October 3rd at 7:00 p.m.

Knowing God’s Presence in Our Lives

Today’s first reading (8/13/18 – Monday of 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 2) from Ezekiel provides what can be both a powerful and confusing image.  It can be confusing to us because it relies on imagery unfamiliar to us but known to the Israelites as images of God.  It can be a powerful image because it is a vision of God’s presence to Ezekiel in that moment.

One might want to ask why God choose to appear to Ezekiel at this particular place at this particular time.  To answer this one must understand the setting.  The Israelites had just been defeated by the Babylonians.  Many of them, including Ezekiel, had been taken away in exile.  Being held in exile in a foreign land would be bad for anyone.  To add to their distress we should remember that for many religions in those days, the god(s) were considered local gods so if you moved from one land to another, your god did not go with you.  Of course, we know that there is but one God and he is present everywhere.  Nonetheless, this was disconcerting to the Israelites.

Ezekiel, as well as the other Israelites, needed to know that God was with them in exile.  It was with this in mind that the Lord gives this vision to Ezekiel as a sign of God being present to them.

When the imagery is understood, this is a very powerful image of God’s presence.  This would be an “epiphany” of the Lord.  The word “epiphany” might remind us of the story of the magi coming to see baby Jesus, God lying in a manger.  The word “epiphany” means a manifestation or appearance of the God.  The Old Testament contains various epiphanies.  There is the time when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3).  There is the time (1 Kings 19:9-13) when God appears to Elijah not in the earthquake, or wind, or fire.  God came that today in a “light silent sound,” a tiny whisper.  That’s why it’s important for us to have quiet time in prayer, to know God’s presence in the silence.

I also think of the story of the great flood with Noah (Genesis 6-8).  Think of how Noah and his family felt on the ark when all they could see was water.  They might have wondered if they would ever see land again.  Without land, they could run out of food.  They could have been afraid.  In the midst of that Moses sent out various birds from time to time to look for land.  I can only imagine the relief they felt when the dove came back to them with an olive leaf.  The flood wasn’t over yet but they knew God was present in that moment.

We might feel overwhelmed by what goes on in our lives.  We might be afraid.  We need to know God is present with us.  We celebrate the Eucharist as a way of giving thanks to God but also as a way to for us to know God is present with us, first in his Word read at Mass, and then in the Eucharist. The Eucharist we receive is small host.  It is small yet it is so much more.  It is Jesus coming to us.  It is Jesus giving us the bread of life to strengthen us in our lives.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (9a)
Ephesians 4:30-5:2
John 6:41-51
August 12, 2018

Elijah was fleeing from King Ahaz and others after defeating the 450 prophets of the false god Baal.  They were seeking to kill him.  In fear and despair Elijah “prayed for death, saying this is enough, O LORD!

Elijah is tired.  He served as a prophet of our Lord but it seemed to become too much for him.  It takes a lot of energy.  Knowing that Elijah needed “food” to rejuvenate him and to encourage him, God sent an angel with “a heart cake and a jug of water.

At first Elijah only ate a portion of the cake but angel told him to eat, “else the journey will be too long for you!”  Elijah faced a physical journey to Horeb, the mountain of God.  He needed earthly strength for this journey but he also needed spiritual nourishment for the spiritual journey ahead as he continued as a prophet of the Lord.

We need physical food as nourishment for our bodies.  We also need spiritual food to nourish our souls.  Jesus provides for us as the “bread of life”, “the living bread that came down from heaven.

Jesus offers us the food we need.  Are we open to receiving the bread of life that Jesus offers us?

Today we hear that “The Jews murmured about Jesus” because he told them, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  For these Jews it was impossible that Jesus came down from heaven.  They knew his father, Joseph, and his mother, Mary.  They knew him to be human just like them.  They were not open to Jesus being anything more.  As such, they were not open to what Jesus offers us.

What is bread?  In its simplest form it is flour made from wheat and water.  It is nothing fancy but we view it as a basic necessary for life.  When the Israelites grumbled in the desert because they had nothing to eat, God sent them the manna as bread but it looked different than what they knew as ordinary bread.  Still, it was enough for them for life in this world.

Even though the Israelites ate the manna, they still died an earthly death.  Jesus speaks of himself as the bread one may eat and not die.  This would be difficult for the crowds to hear and understand.  Everyone dies.  How can we eat Jesus as the bread of life and “not die”?

What is life?  Right now, the life we experience is life in this world.  It ends with earthly death.  It can come with challenges.  We need to work to make a living and care for our families.  We face disease.  There is violence in this world.  There is also good in this world.

Yet, when Jesus speaks of life, he is not limiting “life” to this world.  Life for us begins in this world but it is not all that there is.  True life is to know God, not just in this earthly world but in Heaven.  Life in Heaven comes after life in this world.  When we know of life in Heaven and how good it is, it should change the way we live in this world.  It should change our priorities from material things to living our lives as God calls us so that we spend life after earthly death in Heaven and not in Hell.

It means removing “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling” and “malice.”  These things separate us from love.  That means they separate us from God.

In the Eucharist we celebrate, in the bread and wine we receive as Communion, Jesus offers us life.  It is his gift to us.  It is a free gift but if we are to truly and wholly receive this gift, we need to seek to live not as we want but as Jesus teaches.  We need to confess our sins so that God can cleanse our sins.  Only then can we truly receive the gift of the bread of life.  Receiving the bread of life is not just about earthly consumption of the consecrated bread and wine.  It’s not just receiving into our bodies but to receive it into our souls to feed us for the journey of life.

 

The Lord’s Prayer – Homily for Holy Hour August 2018

Homily for August 2018 Holy Hour
Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9
Psalm 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 6:7-15

We started our monthly holy hour last September as part of our diocesan Year of the Eucharist.  So, it was only logically that the themes of the readings we used helped us reflect on the Eucharist.  After all, it is the Eucharist, the Body of Christ that we see on our altar right now.

Then came Christmas, then Lent and Easter providing themes for our Holy Hours.

Now, our diocesan Year of the Eucharist is over and we are in Ordinary Time.  That means it is more challenging for me to pick a theme and readings to go with it.  I try to listen to the Lord to know what he wants spoken to you (and me!).  This can require patience.  There is the saying “patience is a virtue” but I add that I don’t have a lot of patience.  So, I have some difficulty in waiting for themes to come to me.

This time I didn’t have to wait long.  In fact, the theme for tonight and some of the readings literally came to me during our last holy hour.  We were just finishing the Prayers of the Faithful and beginning the Lord’s Prayer when it came to me to do a holy hour based on the Lord’s Prayer.

The choice for a gospel reading was immediately obvious, Matthew’s telling of Jesus teaching this prayer to his disciples.  From there, a thought in my head said, “isn’t there a verse in Paul’s letters that says we do not know how to pray as we ought?”  That lead to the second reading from Romans tonight.

That is where I left last month’s holy hour.  I still needed to come up with a first reading and psalm for tonight.  I wasn’t having much luck until I was working on a funeral and thought of tonight’s first reading from Isaiah.

There may not seem to be an “obvious” connection to the Lord’s Prayer to this passage from Isaiah.  Isaiah is speaking about the veil that veils all people.  The veil that Isaiah is writing about is “death.”  “Death” is not mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer.  What is mentioned is “thy kingdom come.”

Jesus comes to lift the veil that veils all people.  Jesus comes to die and rise for us to give a new perspective on dying.  Earthly death is not a final end.  Knowing that changes the way we look at life in this world.  It calls us to work for the coming of God’s kingdom (“thy kingdom come”).

Likewise, the 23rd Psalm speaks of the Lord leading and guiding us.  Guiding us to what?  To his will being done (“thy will be done”).

Doing God’s will is not easy.  It begins with knowing God’s will and then asking for the courage to do it.  To know God’s Will we need to pray but we may “not know how to pray as we ought.”

This brings us to Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray.  The Lord’s Prayer is just 55 words but these 55 words really sum up everything we need to be praying for.

Our Father who art in heaven” – God is not some distant being that we cannot know.  He is not just our “master.”  He is “our Father.”  That means we have a relationship with him.  That means he watches over and cares for us.  Earthly fathers are not perfect.  Some people do not have good fathers.  For them, it can be hard to relate to God as Father.  Our earthly fathers are not perfect but God is.  We can count on God to give us what we truly need.

Hallowed be thy name” – “Hallow” is to make “great.”  God’s name is great because of the wonderful things he does for us.  We “hallow” his name when we praise for what he does for us.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” – The first might seem obvious.  Of course, we want the world to be as God wants it.  But when we pray “thy will be done”, are we trusting that God who is all-knowing wills what is best for us or would we rather God do things our way?  We pray “thy will be done.

Give us this day our daily bread.” – we cannot do God’s will on our own (nor do we have to).  God gives us whatever it is we need to do his will.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Of course, we want God’s forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness is a gift made possible for us by Jesus’ death on the Cross.  Sometimes it is difficult for us to believe God forgives us.  That’s because our love is broken and we don’t always want to forgive others.  We might think we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness.  That’s why it is a gift.  We can’t earn God’s forgiveness but he always wants to give us this gift.  We need to share the gift.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  – Jesus comes not just to die for us.  First, he teaches us what it means to keep God’s commandments.  He teaches to be his disciples.  In his teaching and in his Crucifixion, Jesus delivers us from death.

God wants to help us do his will.  He will guide us but we have to listen.  So, now we take some time to quiet ourselves to listen to what God is trying to tell us.

 

 

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54 (24b)
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
John 6:24-35
August 5, 2018

Last week we hear from the Old Testament of when Elisha fed 100 people with 20 loaves.  This was a small miracle serving as a precursor to the huge miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish.  I spoke last week of how Jesus did this as a sign of God’s power at work in him and to draw the people to what was to come.

Today’s gospel passage happens the next day.  The crowds are following Jesus.  This is a good thing, but Jesus knows they are following because he filled their bellies with physical food rather than seeing the feeding as a sign.  Still, they are following him.  Jesus uses the opportunity to begin to move them from “food that perishes” to “the food that endures for eternal life.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.””  This is not the first time the Bible refers to God-given his people “bread”.  Our first reading is the story of when, shortly after God freed them from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites in the desert “grumbled against Moses” because they had no food to eat.

Of course, God provided for their needs, raining down “bread from heaven,” giving them “their daily portion.”  In the evening God gave them quail to eat and in the morning their “fill of bread.

Today bread comes in many kinds.  There is white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel,… the list could go on.  Generally, we buy it in loaves that are already sliced at the store.  We also have bread in the form of rolls.  Maybe you have had fresh baked homemade bread.  All of these are recognizable to us as bread.

None of these was what the Israelites found in the morning.  What they saw “were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.”    When they saw it they “asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was.”  Moses had to tell them this was the bread that God gave them.

 I think God gave them bread that looked different to help them realize this was not just ordinary bread but “bread from heaven.”

Going back to Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life,” while he begins this statement with “I am”, it is not a statement simply about who he is as what he does.  Bread is necessary for life.  Jesus gives us true life.

Jesus gives us life through the Eucharist we receive.  The bread that we receive in the Eucharist is both like ordinary bread and yet different.  It is like a lot of bread in its color.  It’s different in that it has no yeast and so it hasn’t risen.  The difference should help us realize that it is not simply physical food that we are partaking of.  It is the bread of life.

We will hear more about this “bread of life” in the next three weeks.  Before concluding for today, I just want to take one moment to go back to the first reading where the Lord speaks of giving them “their daily portion.”  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “give us this day our daily bread.”  We trust in Jesus to give us what we need each day as he feeds us with the “bread of life.”