Friday, July 27, 2018

OT XVII [B]: 2 Kings 4:42-44, Eph 4:1-6, John 6:1-15 

The multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle from Jesus’ public ministry narrated in all four Gospels that has Eucharistic overtones.   This is the only miracle, other than the Resurrection, that is told in all the Gospels, a fact that speaks of its importance to the early Church. John uses this story in his Gospel to introduce Jesus’ profound and extended reflection on the Eucharist and the Bread of Life.  The Cycle B lectionary has selected portions from John chapter 6 for the next four Sundays to remind us of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist.  The Eucharistic coloring of the multiplication of bread is clear in Jesus’ blessing, breaking, and giving the loaves. 

The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes recalls a particular aspect of the Mass. In this miracle, Jesus transforms a young boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. At every Mass God wants to take from our hands the fruit of our labor and work of our hands…as the offertory prayer stresses. The offertory collection really covers that aspect of the Mass. After his resurrection, at the sea of Tiberias Jesus appeared to the disciples and let them have a miraculous catch. And he asked them to bring some of the fish that they caught to add to the fish Jesus had already caught and was baking for their breakfast. Jesus could have performed the miracle of the multiplication of bread from scratch, from nothing. But he needed the 5 loaves of the boy. Jesus could have made wine from nothing. But he used water, the servants had to work to fill the jars with water. He always takes something that we worked on for his miracles.  Therefore no Eucharist is offered without the fruit of our labor. The Eucharist brings no meaning to us if we bring nothing to the Eucharist. God in turn transforms our gifts, making this bread and wine to be the very Body and Blood of Jesus. We also offer ourselves in this exchange, and we, too, are transformed by the Eucharist. This is what the celebrant says when he mixes water with wine: By this mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Water symbolizes our humanity and Wine symbolizes Jesus’ divinity. The water is fully absorbed in to the wine. The wine doesn’t become water. The same way our humanity is fully covered in Jesus’ divinity. That is why the Mass is fully acceptable to God the Father.

The multiplication may have actually happened in the passing out of the bread from Jesus’ hands into the hands of the Apostles or to the hands of the people. Therefore the people might not have seen a large bulk of bread before them. Only later may they have realized actually what happened a little before. This is what happens at the Eucharist too. We don’t see the transubstantiation taking place, but we only hear the word, this is my body and my blood, which Jesus utters using the celebrant’s tongues. And Jesus does not make a bulk of bread and asks people to come and help themselves. Instead, he did as we do at the Mass, the priests or the Extra ordinary Ministers serve the congregation as Jesus did at the multiplication of the bread or at the last supper. Receiving means I am accepting a gift, not a right that I have that I can go and take or grab. That is the reason only the bishop or the priests who stand in place of Jesus at the Eucharist serves themselves and nobody else. None of us have a right to divine gift.

In all the accounts of the multiplication Jesus asks the Apostles to collect the left over fragments. It shows the abundance of food they had. Also that God wants no food to be wasted. That's exactly what we do with the hosts that remain after Communion; we gather them in the ciboria and reserve them in the tabernacle. All of this is no accident.
Jesus is not just giving the crowds a free lunch to show them God's generosity and concern; he is also getting them ready to understand his coming discourse about the Eucharist.

At the Eucharist every particle that has any bread quality is believed to have the presence of the Lord. Therefore one is to carefully handle each and every particle. Extra ordinary ministers who deal with the bread may feel any tiny particle stuck to their fingers when they feel the fingers together. Therefore it is advisable to rinse your fingers in the water kept in the bowl here.

This reading invites us to become humble instruments in God’s hands by sharing our blessings with our needy brothers and sisters. Miracles can happen through our hands, when we collect and distribute to the needy the food destined for all by our generous God. 

As we continue with this Mass, let's make an effort to live it deeply. And we can live it deeply, by paying attention to the sacred words of the liturgy, by stirring up sentiments of gratitude and faith in our hearts, and by remembering that we are not alone, that through this Mass we are connected to Catholics throughout the world and throughout history who have gathered around the same altar and received the same Holy Communion, obeying our Lords' command: "Do this in remembrance of me."

Saturday, July 21, 2018

OT XVI [B] Jer. 23:1-6, Eph 2:13-18, Mk 6:30-34

According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, "Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies."
The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, "If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it."
People are also like that. That's why we all need to take time to rest. Start by setting aside a special time to relax physically and renew yourself emotionally and spiritually. You will be at your best for the Lord if you have taken time to loosen the bow.

Today’s Gospel passage presents the sympathetic and merciful heart of Jesus who lovingly invites his apostles to a desolate place for some rest.   Jesus had sent his apostles on their first mission, which was one of healing, teaching and preaching.  When they returned, they were no doubt exhilarated by the experience. They had witnessed at first hand the power of God’s Word.   Nonetheless, they were hungry, exhausted, and in need of rest, both physical and spiritual. In fact, Jesus was eager to hear about their missionary adventures as they proudly shared their experiences. But Jesus, too, was in need of a break from the crowds who were constantly pressing on him, demanding his attention and healing. Hence, he led the Apostles by boat to a “deserted place” on the other side of the Lake for a period of rest and sharing.

By stopping and taking breath we can gain more strength for our daily activities. That is why Jesus led the Apostles away to a deserted place. One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. "I don't get it," he said. "Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did."
"But you didn't notice," said the winning woodsman, "that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest."Taking time we need to sharpen our spiritual weapons to fight against the forces of evil in our life and the world.

In this day we have so many devices to save time. Yet, never before have we seen so many hurried and restless people! If the computer, the laptop, the cellular phone, and all of these other technological wonders are suppose to save us time, why do we have so little time for the things that matter?
Today's man is in constant danger of becoming enslaved by the very things that were supposed to make his life more convenient. No matter where he goes, his work goes with him. It seems that with all we've accomplished, about all we have really added is speed and noise. We get there faster, but we don't know where we are going. And when we get there, we're out of breath.
Once a man swallowed an egg whole. He was afraid to move because he was afraid it would break. But he was afraid to sit still because he was afraid it would hatch. There are a lot of people like that today--so frenetic, so pressured they don't know which way to go. It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way. Check if we are running faster, it means we have lost our way.

A story is told about some African workers who were hired to carry heavy equipment on their backs to a remote outpost. It was a place that couldn't be reached any other way but on foot. After several days of difficult travel, the workers refused to pick up their packs and go any further. They sat by the side of the trail ignoring the shouts of the leader of the expedition. Finally the leader asked why they wouldn't go on. One of the workers replied, "Sir, we are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies." We need to slack down and let our souls to catch up with our bodies that they are together back again. Our bodies may be running faster, but the soul which is not in a rush takes its time. So, slow down couple of times a day to get the soul catch up with you. Many of us do critically important work and find ourselves exhausted. Yet we don't rest.

The disciples have returned from their travels, but the pace has not slackened. As the Gospel reports, “Many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Does that scene sound familiar to us? Is our workplace like that? Is our home like that? Many are coming and going, and they have no leisure even to eat. Do we have some time to eat some spiritual food in an unhurried manner? Let’s accept the invitation of the Lord today, to come away to a deserted place and spend some time with him.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

OT XV [B] Am 7:12-15, Eph 1:3-14, Mk 6:7-13

George Sweeting, in his book The No-Guilt Guide for Witnessing, tells us of John Currier who in 1949 was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Later he was transferred and paroled to work on a farm near Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1968, Currier’s sentence was terminated, and a letter bearing the good news was sent to him.  But John never saw the letter, nor was he told anything about it.  Life on that farm was hard and without promise for the future.  Yet John kept doing what he was told even after the farmer for whom he worked had died.  Ten years went by.  Then a state parole officer learned about Currier’s plight, found him, and told him that his sentence had been terminated.  He was a free man.  Sweeting concluded that story by asking, “Would it matter to you if someone sent you an important message—the most important in your life—and year after year the urgent message was never delivered?”  We who have heard the Good News and experienced freedom through Christ are responsible to proclaim it to others still enslaved by sin.  Are we doing all we can to make sure that people get the message?

In today’s Gospel (Mark 6:1-13), the evangelist tells the story of Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve apostles for their first missionary journey. They are to preach the “Good News” of repentance, forgiveness of sins, liberation and salvation through Jesus.  Just as God sent the prophet Amos to preach repentance to ancient Israel and St. Paul to preach the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles, so Jesus sends forth his followers to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom and to bring healing to those who need it most.

Jesus sends out the Apostles in pairs.  Because according to Jewish law, two witnesses were needed to pronounce a truth.  Going two by two carries with it the authority of official witnesses. Jesus knew that when his disciples went to any place to evangelize, a family or house would take them in, welcome them and give them what they needed because hospitality was an important religious tradition in Palestine.  By His stern instruction, Jesus seems to be saying, “If people refuse to listen to you or to show you hospitality, the only thing you can do is to treat them as an orthodox Jew would treat a Gentile or a pagan.”  The Rabbinic law stated that the dust of a Gentile country was defiled, so that when a Jew entered Palestine from another country, he had to shake off every particle of the unclean land’s dust from his clothing and sandals.

Jesus’ disciples were to preach the Good News that God is not a punishing judge, but rather a loving Father who wants to save men from their bondage to sin through Jesus His Son. As apostles, we are to evangelize the world.  We are called to share with others not just words, or ideas, or doctrines but an experience, our experience of God and His Son, Jesus. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the most influential religious thinkers of our time. In one of his writings, he said these startling words: “If there are no witnesses there is no God to be met…. For God to be present we have to be witnesses… There are no proofs for the existence of God; there are only witnesses.”  The English word “martyr” comes from a Greek word which simply means “to witness.” The word became associated with death because that was the end result of one’s witnessing during the first centuries of the Christian Era. This is not to suggest that God’s existence depends solely on our witnessing. The point here is that God’s reality for us, God’s relevance in our lives, God’s reality in the world, is dependent upon our witnessing to Him. So God should not be found at the end of a philosophical or theological argument, but in the midst of life.

We Catholics cannot avoid the demand of evangelization, of proclaiming the faith. Vatican II couldn’t be clearer on this score, seeing the Church itself as nothing but a vehicle for evangelization. According to Vatican II, it’s not so much the case that the Church has a mission, but rather that a mission has the Church. Bringing people to Christ is not one work among many; rather, it is the central work of the Church, that around which everything else we do revolves.

The fastest-growing "religious" group in the United States is the "nones"—that is, those who claim no religious affiliation? In the latest Pew Research Center survey, fully 25 percent of the country—80 million people—say that they have no formal religion. When we focus on young people, the picture is even more bleak. Almost 40 percent of those under thirty are nones, and among Catholics in that age group, the number rises to 50 percent. Of all the Catholic children baptized or confirmed these last thirty years, half no longer participate in the life of the Church.

A prison chaplain went to talk with a man sentenced to die in the electric chair. He urged him to believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized; that forgiveness and eternity with God awaited him if only he would turn towards God. The prisoner said, “Do you really believe that?” “Of course, I do,” replied the chaplain. “Go on,” scoffed the prisoner. “If I believed that I would crawl hands and knees over broken glass to tell others, but I don’t see you Christians making any big thing of it!” He had a point.

An important part of evangelism is the simple act of inviting a friend or family member to join us in worship. This is where reconciliation between persons and God is most likely to take place. We do not have to commit verbal assault on someone with our convictions. A simple invitation offered out of a loving and joyful heart is the most powerful evangelistic message of all. We will be starting our RCIA sessions in a few months. We need to personally invite someone who needs the message of the gospel in their life. A Christian who is not witnessing his faith is like the dead sea where there is no living being in it. In Israel, both the sea of Galilee and Dead sea are fed by river Jordan. But one is full of life but the other is totally dead. Because one lets out its water and the other doesn’t. If we don’t preach our faith, and keep our faith like the Dead sea, we are dead Christians.
Jesus is inviting us today to cooperate with him.  He wants us to be his instruments of liberation, to help others recover their freedom. We are meant to help people to cure their sicknesses – not only the bodily sicknesses but psychological and emotional illnesses as well.  More than just physical or emotional healing one needs Christ in his or her life for eternal life. Let’s resolve today to take the message of Gospel to someone and help his find Christ.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

OT XIV [B] Ez 2:2-5; II Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6

One day a horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

Fr. Antony De Mello tells this story to open our eyes to see that what we often think as bad, may not be so. What we often think of good may not be so either. When suffering comes in our life none of us thinks it is a good time for us.

In the second reading, Paul fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed but was given instead the reassurance that God's grace would be sufficient for his every need. This strange
passage raises two questions. First, what was this thorn? No one really knows, but scholars have many theories. It may have been a physical ailment of some
kind; or a particular temptation, like lust or greed; or the discouragement he constantly felt from being rejected by his Jewish confreres; or it may also have been his fiery temperament, which always seemed to get him into trouble. Whatever it was, it was a continual source of pain and irritation to Paul.

The second question is: why didn't God take this thorn away? St Paul tells us that it continually reminded him of his human weakness, inspiring him to depend more fully on God's grace. This is what he means when he writes: "when I am weak, then I am strong." And this should be a comforting thought for us. It means that our thorns, whatever they may be, are not signs of God's anger or displeasure, but signs that He is teaching us, as he taught St Paul, true wisdom, the wisdom of humility and trust in God.

Paul understood that suffering, accepted as God’s gift, produces patience, sensitivity and compassion and a genuine appreciation of life's blessings.

The ancient Fathers of the Church used to call Jesus the doctor of the soul. That's a comparison that can help us understand this idea. Sometimes doctors and dentists have to cause temporary discomfort or pain in order to bring about long-term health.  The cut of a surgeon's knife hurts, but it leads to healing and strength in the long run. Sometimes the medicine that a doctor  prescribes tastes bitter and harsh. And yet, that same medicine will cure the sickness that is much more dangerous.

The thorn that St. Paul mentions in this Reading is like the surgeon's knife or the bitter medicine.
As painful as it is, he recognizes that God is permitting it for a reason; to cure him of his tendency to arrogance and self-absorption. Likewise, when God allows difficulties to plague us, he is not absent from them, but at work through them, like a good doctor with a sharp scalpel.

Someone once asked Abraham Lincoln why he wouldn't replace a cabinet member who constantly opposed him. Lincoln told the story about the farmer who was trying to plow with a very old and decrepit horse. Lincoln noticed on the flank of the animal a big thistle caught in the animal's hair. Lincoln started to pull it off and the farmer said, "Don't remove that thistle, Abe! If it wasn't for the sticker, this old horse wouldn't move an inch!" That means, treat your problems as challenges. People who are difficult to work with, problems that seem insurmountable - notice how they keep you digging inside yourself for greater strength. In the end, you accomplish great feats, not in spite of, but because of your problems.

Our “suffering has redemptive power.” Pope John Paul II’s encyclical writes, “It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.  “Suffering is not in itself redemptive and transformative. When we suffer an adversity, first we have to examine ourselves to see if there is sin in our life. Suffering can come as a result of my sins. For instance, I get cancer as a result of my being a heavy smoker. This suffering is a result of my own doing. But I can make it also redemptive if I repent of my doing and cease smoking and join my offering to that of Christ.

John Paul wrote, “Christ has raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (SD 19).  Paul says: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church” . We might ask the question, “what can possibly be lacking in Christ’s sufferings, Christ’s afflictions?” The answer is that all that is lacking is our part in them. When we think about our part in completing what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings, we can think it is very small, even miniscule compared to his. Yet, our sufferings are, as John Paul wrote, “a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption” (SD 27). The truth is, even if a small part, it has meaning when it is joined to Christ. It can be fruitful. We can participate with Christ in redeeming the world.

Accepting our limitations and the thorns that God permits in our lives is not easy for us either. We need God's help, which is always available through prayer and the sacraments. And we also need to exercise the virtue of humility. There are three ways we can do that almost every day. First, by not insisting on getting our own way all the time. Second, by listening to others more than talking about ourselves. And third, by doing acts of kindness for others instead of constantly expecting them to do acts of kindness for us.

During this Mass Jesus will renew his commitment to us through the sacrifice of the Eucharist. When he does, let's renew our commitment to him, and ask him to help us accept the thorns he allows in our lives, so that we can also experience the full transforming power of his love.