Saturday, August 29, 2015

XXII Dt 4:1-2, 6-8Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 William Barclay in The Daily Study Bible tells the story of an old Jewish rabbi in the Roman prison diagnosed with acute dehydration which would have led to his death. The prison guards insisted that the rabbi had been given his quota of drinking water. So the prison doctor and the officer in charge instructed the guards to watch the rabbi and ascertain what he was doing with his ration of water. They were shocked to find that the rabbi was using almost all his water for traditional ritual washing before prayer and meals. Today’s Gospel tells us how the tradition-addicted Pharisees started questioning Jesus when his disciples omitted the ritual washing of hands in public before a meal.
Jesus warns the Pharisees against their tendency to equate traditional “human precepts” with God’s will. He blames the scribes and the Pharisees for giving undue importance to external observances in the name of “tradition,” while ignoring the Law’s real spirit.

True religion should focus on the essentials. Jesus declares that it is our inner motivations and dispositions that produce our purity or impurity. True religion is serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart.

 Legalism takes account of man’s outward actions; but it takes no account of his inward feelings. One may be meticulously serving God in outward things, and bluntly disobeying God in inward things.
 There is a story about a Muslim pursuing an enemy to kill him. In the midst of the pursuit, the Azan, or public call to prayer, sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him.

Jesus was not criticizing rituals given in the Mosaic Law, but the giving of disproportionate importance to these things while neglecting what was far more important, the love of God and the care for one's fellow-human beings. By insisting that uncleanness comes from violations of the moral law rather than of minute ritual prescriptions, Jesus denied a basic principle of Jewish religion and set aside a considerable amount of Mosaic Law. "Nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity."
 The point is clear. Righteousness is not what we do on the outside, but who we are on the inside. Righteousness is not about the hand; it is about the heart.

The first reading explains that religion is a Covenant relationship with a caring, providing and protecting God, fostered by keeping His Commandments given through Moses. God gave Israel the Law so that the Israelites might keep their Covenant with Yahweh and thank Him for His love and fidelity to His Chosen People.
 In the second reading, St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community. He challenges Christians to become doers of the word, not merely hearers. 

For almost 50 years Mother Teresa worked in the slums of Calcutta, India. She worked among the most forsaken people on earth. We would recoil from most of the people that she touched every day – the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the diseased, the desperate. And yet, everybody who met Mother Teresa remarked on her warm smile. How, after almost 50 years of working in conditions like that did she keep a warm smile on her face? Mother explains that it is interesting. "When I was leaving home in Yugoslavia at the age of 18 to become a nun, my mother told me something beautiful and very strange”. She said, 'You go put your hand in Jesus’ hand and walk along with him.'" And that was the secret of Mother Teresa's life ever after. (Rev. King Duncan). Many of us here have good jobs. And we live in nice homes, and we have easy situations. But we don't have the warm smile on our faces that this little nun, working in the most desperate situation imaginable, had on her face. What's the difference? It may be that we've never put our hand in Jesus’ hand. It may be that we have him only on our lips as St. James remarks in the second reading.

Let us accept the challenge to become hearers and doers of God’s word. Let us ask ourselves how the Sunday or daily readings are affecting or changing our lives. That will show us whether we are being attentive listeners to, and doers of, God’s word. We become more fully Jesus’ family members, only when we consistently “hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion today, let us ask him for the grace to become the doers of his word as he was the doer of his Fathers’ will.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

OT XXI [B] Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6: 60-69
A group of Christians gathered for a secret prayer meeting in Russia, at the height of the persecution of all Christian churches. Suddenly the door was broken by the boot of a soldier. He entered the room and faced the people with a gun in his hand. They all feared the worst. He spoke. "If there’s anyone who doesn’t really believe in Jesus, then, get out now while you have a chance." There was a rush to the door. A small group remained - those who had committed themselves to Jesus, and who were never prepared to run from him. The soldier closed the door after the others, and once again, he stood in front of those who remained, gun poised. Finally, a smile appeared on his face, as he turned to leave the room, and he whispered "Actually, I believe in Jesus, too, and you’re much better off without those cowards.
Those people made a deliberate choice for Jesus in the face of possible death.

 In the first reading Joshua challenges the Israelites to decide whom they will serve, the gods of their fathers, the gods of the Amorites in whose country they were then dwelling or the God of Israelites Who has done so much for them.
In the gospel today Jesus' disciples made the complaint that his teaching was difficult. They were offended by Jesus' language -- his imagery -- the metaphors he used in his Eucharistic discourse. It was Jesus' dramatic way of saying that we must accept him totally, without any conditions or reservations. His thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours.
Jesus asks Peter: Are you also leaving; to which Peter said, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Why is the Gospel offensive and scandalous?  It is because God’s ways are not our ways.  It is offensive because it is costly.

When Christ calls us to eat his Flesh and to drink his Blood, he is inviting us to participate in his death. The Christians who first heard this Gospel experienced persecution.  They knew martyred Christians, and they knew Christians who had avoided martyrdom by compromising their Faith. The Gospel with no offense would be like a surgeon with no scalpel -- having no power to heal.   The Church must always be ready to give offense -- to speak out for Christ and against the destructive beliefs and behaviors that the world finds so attractive. The total assimilation of Jesus' spirit and outlook into our lives is very challenging.
Faith is not simply a set of ideas to be held on to. It is a living relationship with a Person and his vision of life. It is a relationship that needs to grow and be deepened with the years. It is a relationship that has constantly to be re-appraised in a constantly changing world. We must hear Peter’s words to Jesus resounding through the centuries: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 
The great American writer, Mark Twain, said: I suspect that, at times, we all would like to walk away from the church and never come back. We want a God different from the one we find in Jesus.
Flesh and blood? Yes. But demanding? No.
Resurrected? Yes. But crucified? No.
Salvation? Yes. Repentance? No.
Love? Yes. Commitment? No.
Unfortunately we cannot have one without the other. The rose comes with the thorns. The pains come with the birth. Night comes with day. The best of times can only be lived because there are those times that are so bad.
Most of us want a comfortable God who fits in with our ideas, and who keeps a decent distance away; it is one of the great paradoxes of faith that true spirituality accepts the presence of God in our flesh, the nearness of God.
It is high time that we also reflected to find out where we stand, as his followers. Majority of us identify ourselves with the vast crowds that were not able to accept the challenges that Jesus placed before them. Like them we also disappear from the scene. We silently assent to the decisions and practices of the majority, even if there is a constant reminder from our conscience that what we do is not correct. Silently consent the injustice, exploitation and human right violations. Because, we do not want to risk our name; we do not want to risk our positions; we do not want to risk the comforts that we enjoy.

Peter was able to respond, "Lord who shall we go to? You have the words of eternal life; based on a personal relationship to Jesus. There were many things that he did not understand. But there was something in Jesus that held him fast to Jesus, that was his experience of Jesus. In the last analysis, Christianity is not a well set doctrine of dogmas, not a credible philosophy, not a well-defined Christology, but simply a personal relationship with Jesus. When we too are able to have this personal experience, we will become heroes of Jesus like Peter the Apostle was. Let’s also respond in Peter’s words today: Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

O. T. XX (B) Proverbs 9:1-6Eph 5:15-20, John 6: 51-58

In October, 1972, a plane carrying 46 passengers of an Uruguayan rugby team and their families and supporters to an exhibition game in Chile crashed in the Andes. Nando Parrado, one of the survivors, tells the story of their 72 day struggle against freezing weather and dangerous avalanches in the book Miracle in the Andes. The author's mother and sister were among those killed in the crash. High in the Andes, with a fractured skull, eating the raw flesh of his deceased teammates and friends, Parrado calmly pondered the cruelties of fate, the power of the natural world and the possibility of his continued existence: "I would live from moment to moment and from breath to breath, until I had used up all the life I had," he wrote. The 16 survivors had nothing to eat except the flesh of their dead teammates. After two months, Nando, an ordinary young man – a rugby player - with no disposition for leadership or heroism, led an expedition of the remaining three of the survivors up the treacherous slopes of a snow-capped mountain and across forty-five miles of frozen wilderness in an attempt to find help. The party was finally rescued by helicopter crews. It was difficult for them to decide that eating human flesh was all right, even in those extreme circumstances! Hence, it is not surprising that Jesus’ listeners protested against his invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood as described in today’s Gospel. 

That we cannot have everlasting life unless we eat Jesus’ Body and drink his Blood was a shocking message to the listeners. Indeed, Jewish law prohibited the eating of human flesh; and blood of any kind was considered to be the actual life of a living being. Drinking of blood, consequently, was prohibited in Judaism and in Christianity (Gen 9:4; Lev 17:10, 12, 14;cf. Acts 15:29). Some of Israel’s Old Testament neighbors apparently drank blood as a religious act, believing that if they drank the blood of an animal they took into themselves the strength and vitality of that creature because blood was life, and life was blood. Seeking life from the blood of an animal was idolatrous for Israelites because life comes from God alone. In addition, for the Jews, blood itself was a spiritual contaminant, and coming in contact with blood immediately rendered one ritually unclean. That was why a woman was considered to be ritually unclean for several weeks after she gave birth to a child. We saw in the Gospel how a woman with a chronic hemorrhage of blood dared not approach Jesus openly. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite on their way to the Temple would not contaminate themselves by contact with the injured man because he was bleeding. To this day, observant Jews will eat only kosher meat from which the blood has been fully drained.

 Eating the Living Bread, Jesus himself, allows us to participate in his life and to grow here and now in our eternal life with God. Jesus emphasizes the eternal-life dimensions of eating His Body and drinking his Blood.
Jesus reminds his listeners that this was not the first time in the history of salvation that God had provided his people with food. The people knew about the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness. They now must realize how that experience differed from Jesus’ feeding his followers with the Holy Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the eternal sacrifice of Jesus providing life to those who eat his Body and drink his Blood. Thus, the Holy Mass is the Sacramental act which transforms our lives into the Divine Life. In each Mass, Jesus transforms us into other Christs - ritually, sacramentally and existentially – thus keeping his promise: “I will be with you till the end of the world.”

When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we accept a great challenge. We accept the triumphs and the tragedies, joys and the pains necessary to build up the Kingdom of God wherever we have been called to serve. 
No one would come to church to collect a morsel of bread, if that was all there was to it.  The only reason we come is that Jesus said, "Take and eat…this is my body; do this in memory of me."  All the other things we do, said Johann Tauler in the 14th century, can be so many paths to God, but in the Eucharistic Liturgy we are united with God in Christ, "with no intermediary."  "There is no difference between it (the consecrated bread) and God," he said. "In this gift he gives himself to us directly and not in any figurative way; he is united, simply and purely, with us. This is a feast indeed; there is nothing to compare with it."  We have to come to know this, he said, "by experience, by living… not by reasoning about it."

It is indeed a special experience to do or say something in Liturgy with full awareness that the only reason I am doing it is that God is God, and Christ is Christ, fully present, fully given to us.  This you might call the vertical axis.  Immediately there follows the horizontal, because Liturgy is not an escape or an alternative to our daily life.  But it begins from the vertical, not from the other.  It is like the way we make the Sign of the Cross: we make the vertical axis first.  And at the end of the Mass we are told, go and announce the gospel, and there we make the horizontal axis. So from the Sunday’s vertical axis, the Monday through Saturday horizontal axis should follow.
 May the reception of the body and blood of Jesus transform us into his body and help us to believe in the abiding presence of God in the Eucharist.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

OT XIX [B] I Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:30--5:2, Jn 6:41-51

At the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the famous British Admiral Horatio Nelson was due to be buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral. His sailors lifted his casket over their shoulders and majestically carried his body into the cathedral. Draping his coffin was a magnificent Union Jack. After the service, the sailors once more carried his body high in the air, this time to the graveside. With reverence and with efficiency they lowered the body of the world’s greatest admiral into its tomb. Then, as though answering to a sharp order from the quarterdeck, they all seized the Union Jack with which the coffin had been covered and viciously tore it to shreds, each taking his souvenir of the illustrious dead, a swath of colored clothe as a memento. It would forever remind them of the admiral they had loved. “I’ve got a piece of him,” one sailor remarked, “and I’ll never forget him.”

In like manner we now can have a piece of Christ - living bread - physically, spiritually, personally. Reaching out to receive him in faith is all that’s required.
Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum on his return there after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand. During the discourse, Jesus makes a series of unique claims: 1) “I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.” 2)”I am the Bread of Life.” 3) “The Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world.” 4)“No one can come to me unless the Father Who sent me draws him.” 5)“I will raise him on the last day.” 6) “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.” In short, Christ Jesus reveals himself as God and as the “Bread of Life from Heaven,” sent by the Father for our salvation.

The first reading describes the physical and spiritual hungers experienced by the prophet Elijah. In this reading, the Bread of Life Jesus speaks about is prefigured by the miraculous food with which the angel nourished Prophet Elijah in the desert while he was fleeing from the soldiers of Queen Jezebel.  After being nourished by the Lord, Elijah was strengthened for the long journey of forty days to Mount Horeb where God had given Moses the Ten Commandments. 
The lectionary compares God’s strengthening of his prophet by the miraculously-provided food with His strengthening of us in our pilgrimage to Heaven by the Bread from Heaven, namely, the Holy Eucharist. Jesus knows quite well that we need both spiritual and physical food for life’s journey. So, he offers both to us.
 Jesus wants us to eat him because he IS Bread. "You are what you eat" Jesus is Bread and he wants us to eat his Flesh. Thus, we bring him into the core of our being. He is ready to come into our lives, regardless of who we have been, or how unqualified we feel.

The Fathers of the Church explain that, while ordinary food is assimilated into man, the very opposite takes place in Holy Communion. Here man is assimilated into the Bread of Life. St.Augustine said since God is the superior principle he eats us and not we eating him. The superior principle eats the inferior principle. A tiger eats a deer; a deer doesn’t eat a tiger. A deer eats grass; grass doesn’t eat a deer. Grass absorbs minerals from the ground, minerals don’t eat grass. So, it is Jesus, God, the superior principle, who eats us, though externally looking we are eating Jesus in the bread. That is why when we receive him, we grow more into his likeness rather than Jesus becoming more into our likeness. All other food grows into our likeness.

When we receive the Holy communion we need to consciously receive him into our hearts to be more fruitful. In the case of any other food, without our consciously assimilating it, it becomes a nutrition for us. But in the case of the holy communion the more we accept him with faith and devotion it becomes powerful in us. So before we come to receive the holy communion it is good to consciously say some prayers of welcome to Jesus and after we receive him, give him thanks and have some intimate conversation with him. If we receive Jesus as a “thing”, it won’t do us any good. To receive Jesus as a spiritual food we have to have faith and receive him as God. Most of the time why we don’t feel not getting any better in our spiritual life is because we receive the communion very casually and without proper preparation.

St.John says that when Judas received the first communion at the last supper Satan entered into him. How come Jesus gave his own body to Judas and it caused him to welcome Satan into him? It is because he was bent on betraying and deceiving Jesus. When he received the power from God through the very flesh of Jesus, his evil intention got stronger and he went out of the supper room to betray Jesus. It can happen to us if we receive communion unworthily. We may be sinful, but we should have a repentant heart for that wrong we have done and the resolve not to do it again. Only then, our intention and mind gets changed to become good, and we grow in Jesus. Otherwise we will grow in the evil we have been doing and pondering on.
That is why St.Paul tells us not to receive communion unworthily. Sometimes for the sake of propriety we come to receive communion. But if we have that wrong attitude and intention to sin, it is in our interest that we don’t receive communion. It can do us the very thing that it did on Judas.
At the beginning of the mass when we do the act of contrition if we are really sorry for our sins and resolve to turn away from our sins that would help in our worthy reception of the Holy communion.

Today, let us be people who recognize Jesus, whom we consume, and who assimilates us into His being. Then, from Sunday to Saturday we will grow into Jesus, as he grows in us, our lives will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we will become more like him.
Thus, we shall share in the joyous and challenging life of being the Body of Christ for the world – Bread for a hungry world, and Drink for those who thirst for justice, peace, fullness of life, and even eternal life.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

OT XVIII [B] Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35
During one of the busiest times at Houston's Hobby Airport, a flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem. Since they needed the gate for another flight, the aircraft was backed away from the gate while the maintenance crew worked on it. The passengers were then told the new gate number, which was some distance away. Everyone moved to the new gate, only to find that a third gate had been designated. After some further shuffling, everyone got on board. As they were settling in, the flight attendant made the standard announcement, "We apologize for the inconvenience of this last-minute gate change. This flight is going to Washington, D.C. If your destination is not Washington, D.C., then you should 'deplane' at this time."
A very confused-looking and red-faced pilot emerged from the cockpit, carrying his bags. "Sorry," he said, "wrong plane." What happens when the pilot does not know where he is headed?
There are people today who are very confused because they have looked to the wrong persons to help them find the meaning they seek. There are hundreds of Religions in today's world. New ones are born every year. Many people are blindly accepting strange theologies --- theologies that will not help them find the life that Jesus offers to you and me --- the Living Bread of God.
There are thousands of protestant denominations in the world today which provide to the faithful nothing more other than the sacrament of baptism. Because for any sacrament other than baptism, they need a validly ordained minister which they cannot have as they do not have a Church with tradition of validly ordained ministers. So they try to cater to the deepest needs of the heart with entertainment in their churches with good preaching and cup holders in the pew so they get satisfied with the peripheral needs. They satisfy the hunger of the heart with appetizers, namely the breaking of the word, but leave you without the main dish, the breaking of the bread: the Eucharist. To cover up this deficiency they will provide you with rock music and coffee and donuts so you won’t really notice what you are missing.   
In the gospel today we see, Jesus fed the people with loaves of bread and fish he had  miraculously multiplied. The next morning, it did not take long for the crowd to realize that Jesus had disappeared. As such, they set out to Capernaum where Jesus and His disciples were known to resort. The people were looking for a repeat performance of their miraculous feeding. When they found Jesus on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?"
 In answer to their question about his arrival, Jesus told them that they looked for him for another free meal and that such meals would not satisfy them. The people had not perceived the true meaning of the signs but only considered the material aspect of the miracle, having failed to reflect on its significance. Hence, he instructed them to labor for food that would give them eternal life. Jesus continued, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."
This  echoes the words that are found in the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant..." [Is. 55:2-3] The Jewish people were very familiar with these words. Yet, the difficulty that Jesus was experiencing was the worldly mindedness of the people.
Material things do not necessarily bring us happiness. That is a fact of life. It is a hard fact to understand sometimes, especially in a society that tries very hard to teach us otherwise.
Buddhism is a religion based on seeking enlightenment, and not desiring material or tangible things. They believe that suffering is caused by desire. The principle is, we desire, we suffer because we do not own the thing we desire, and once we own the thing, we desire something else, so the suffering continues. There are too many desires in the world, and a human, will never be truly happy.
It is very common to get into a mode where you think, "If only I had object X, my life would be perfect and I would be happy." You  really want something: a new TV, a new car, a special pair of shoes, whatever. Then you buy it and you love having it for a few days. But over time you get bored or it wears out. You can see this pattern repeated constantly in our own life. For example, our parents and grandparents likely spent thousands and thousands of dollars on toys for us as we were growing up: Dump trucks and Barbie dolls and video games and electric cars and on and on and on. All of those toys got boring or broken or outgrown eventually. They brought happiness for a moment or a week, but over time they became worthless and our desire turned to a new object.
Jesus was asking His listeners to change their hearts and minds in order to see God in a new light. Instead of asking for bread for their stomachs as their ancestors did when Moses led them out of Egypt they should ask for the Bread of Life, the Bread Jesus was going to give them, His Body and Blood. 
As the Bread of Life from Heaven, Jesus claims that only he can satisfy man’s spiritual hunger. While bodily food helps us to stay alive in this world, spiritual food sustains and develops our supernatural life which will last forever in heaven.
Only God can satisfy our various forms of spiritual hunger. St. Augustine said: "O God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” 
We believe that the Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian Life“(Lumen Gentium), because it contains the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Jesus Christ himself. 

Let us nourish our souls with this Heavenly manna and carry Jesus to our homes and workplaces, radiating his love, mercy and compassion all around us.