Sunday, August 12, 2018

We too longed to be "touched" by the mystery of God's love.

In today’s Scripture readings, people are tired, exhausted, depressed, and full of complaints.  Does this sound like God’s chosen people?  Perhaps these folks need to read and enjoy Pope Francis’s letter on THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL.  Perhaps they need to sing the beautiful hymn to the God of all hopefulness, the God of all joy.

In the first Scripture reading, the prophet Elijah sat under the broom tree and even prayed for death.  This was his hour of darkness.  Fleeing for his life from the evil queen Jezebel,  Elijah sought refuge and rest in the desert under a broom tree.  So broken in Spirit was Elijah that he literally prayed for death.  Elijah was basically telling God, ‘Enough!’  I’ve had it!  Just let me lie down and die!  Here and Now!

Most of us find situations in life when we can identify with Elijah’s desert experience under his broom tree of despair.  Were Elijah’s times all that different from ours?   Given the disillusionment with too many of our political and spiritual leaders, given the variant personal lifestyles of too many people, there is enormous pressure on us to be faithful.  Like Elijah, sometimes we question whether our lives have any lasting meaning, whether we have failed to make a difference in the world. 

Like Elijah, we can have a pity party for ourselves.  Personally, our family life may not be what we would like it to be.  Illness may be an unwelcomed and unplanned visitor to our life.  That right job just doesn’t to be on the horizon.

 Elijah, faithful to his mission but utterly discouraged, is depressed to the point of wanting to sleep and sleep.  And yet, “Touched” by the divine, Elijah’s spirit was renewed and sustained for the 40 day-and-night journey to Mount Hereby.  Elijah needed the kind of bread that only God could provide.

 We too long to be “touched” by the mystery of God’s love, to be taught by God.  The truth of our lives is God longs to touch us with his amazing grace.  When we trust in God and God’s care for us, we can leave behind the broom trees of our despair and live in hope.  Hope in God, hope in the bread of life, hope in the One who prepares a weekly feast and is revealed anew in bread and wine.

Elijah’s story provides a fitting context in which to reflect on the Eucharist.  The people listening to Jesus in the Gospel began to complain because he claimed to be the bread that came down from heaven.  People murmured when Jesus declares that He Himself is our bread for the journey.  This murmur echoes the reaction of some to the real presence of Jesus in the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of God’s self-sacrificing love revealed in Jesus, and this mystery that enables diverse people near and far to live as brothers and sisters in one human family, children of one heavenly Father.

We  must honestly ask ourselves if we are witnesses to the profound Eucharistic mystery?   Do we intellectually believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine that has become the Body and Blood of Christ?  Equally, are our hearts open to receiving God’s love and mercy?

In their murmuring, the first disciples said:  “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his mother and his father?  Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven.’  Maybe that is our equivalent of the Mass becoming such a routine part of our lives. Homilies cease to inspire.  We have lost the wonder.   We have lost the mystery.  The Mass is too ordinary, too routine.

As a Eucharistic people, we are fed and nourished with the bread of life and the cup of salvation; our lives are transformed by the love of Jesus within us. On the day of your child’s First Communion, there is a wonderful expectancy, the joy and hope is so apparent in our First Communicants and their families.  Indeed, this is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it. 

The process of Eucharistic conversion for all of us is the deepening of the awe, the expectancy of being fed by the bread of life and the chalice of salvation.

If the Eucharist is only a Sunday morning thing, if there is anger and hatred in our hearts toward others, if our attention is only mixed at best, if we are hassled about many things, we have not opened our hearts to the transforming love of God revealed in the Eucharistic mystery.

To unlock the mystery of John’s Bread of Life discourse from his sixth chapter, we need to plummet the last line of today’s Gospel.  “The Bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  Jesus’ crucified body is bread?  It is hard to imagine how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross actually feeds us.  The cross is a place of glory for Jesus.  It is on the cross that Jesus will draw all people to himself.

In the second Scripture reading, Paul writes to the Ephesians, who likewise appear to be tired, and even broken in spirit, Paul has heard of the bitterness and anger that some community members feel toward each other. The situation has apparently deteriorated and there was “shouting,” “reviling,” even “fury” among community members. In his advice in handling this tension, Paul tells the Ephesians to “be imitators of God.”  The divine will is to love and forgive.  Bitter rancor is to be avoided; compassion and forgiveness are to become holy habits of those who profess to belong to God.

The only way for us as disciples to be imitators of God is to center our lives in the cross of Jesus.  I absolutely love how Jesus on the cross is such a dominating part of our Church sanctuary.  May the cross of Jesus be at the center of our hearts as well.  As we now celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist, the bread that is my flesh for the life of the world, may we be immersed in the great mystery of God’s unending love for us.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Do you seek the bread the Father gives, or do you seek the Father who gives you bread?

Eighteenth Sunday in OT  B  2018

In the first Scripture reading from the Book of Exodus, we read about our ancestors in faith.  The Israelites weren’t having a good time.  Their complaints were mounting.  Nothing was going right for them.  Moses their leader was on the hot seat. 

First, they wanted freedom. They were willing to leave Egypt for freedom. But as soon as they had freedom, they realized that the now lacked the food that they had enjoyed in Egypt! This is such a human story. When we get what we want, then we want something else. And very often we forget to enjoy what we have already.

God patiently works with them and responds to their complaints with bread from heaven.  As they gather the manna each day of their journey, they may learn to trust that God will always care for them.

But the truth of their journey lies in the reality that until the people learned to trust in God, they would never make much progress towards the Promised Land.

This is the truth of our spiritual journey as well:  Until we trust in God’s faithfulness to us, we wander a bit aimlessly.

In our wandering, we ask ourselves: “What do I want out of life?”  The answer to this question is very, very important. If we are starving for food, we will surely answer that we want food. If we are prisoners and being tortured, surely we will answer that we want freedom. So often our answers can be a clear response to the things that we most lack in life.

For those of us who are not physically hungry, we still ask ourselves for what are we hungry for?  What will bring us the fullness of life?

In today’s Gospel, remembering when Jesus fed five thousand people with only two fish and five barley loaves, the crowd chased Jesus down to ask for more, as if Jesus had a magic picnic hamper always full of food.

In the Gospel, people begin to follow Jesus and He realizes that they are following Him because He was able to give them bread. They do not recognize that when He gave them bread, there was a great sign being presented about God’s relationship to the world.

A fundamental question for the disciples of Jesus was:  Do you seek the bread the Father gives, or do you seek the Father who gives you bread?   More than satisfying our physical hunger, Jesus wishes us to have a relationship with the God who breathes life into our spirit.  The bread is a sign of God’s love for us.   Jesus tells us to look for a different kind of food.  Jesus said to them:  I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE.

Jesus now says that the deepest hungers and thirsts of the human heart are satisfied through the person of Jesus.  He is food for our souls.  Jesus is inviting us to a personal relationship with him.

Jesus is trying to refocus the inquiring minds and hearts                   of his disciples.  They are seeking him because they have filled their bellies on the loaves of bread.  But they have not understood the loaves as signs of God’s care for people.  They are well acquainted with their physical hunger and deeply attached to filling it.  But they are less acquainted with their spiritual hunger and unsure how to fill it.  Jesus tells them that he himself is the one who feeds them with eternal food.

The teaching in today’s Gospel points to the mystery of the Eucharist when Jesus says:  “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Today’s readings challenge us to consider our own lives, what we have, what we lack and what we want. Am I seriously hungry for spiritual food? Do I confuse the goods of this life with serious spiritual food? Am I willing to give up my life in order to receive bread from heaven? Am I willing to suffer in this life for the sake of true spiritual food? Am I willing to accept whatever happens in my life and seek God alone?

May this Sunday open our hearts and our minds to the person of Jesus in our lives.   May we desire God’s presence with our whole being and do whatever is necessary to seek God’s mercy and compassion!

While the externals of the Mass ritual are about sacred music, Scripture readings, a homily, a gathering of the parish community, the receiving of Communion, but unless the Mass is also a prayerful encounter with Jesus, the ritual will never fully satisfy us.  This is the message of today’s Gospel and the entire sixth chapter of John’s Gospel.

When our Mass consciousness focuses our relationship with Jesus, the Eucharist can change our human life in profound ways.  It’s that part of us that wants to hold the Life of God within our hearts like living tabernacles – waking with the Lord in the morning, sharing our joys and sufferings with Jesus throughout the day, and resting in the Lord again at the end of it all.  It’s that part of us that, despite our limitations and our sinfulness wants to give the life that Christ demands of us everything we’ve got.  It’s that part of us that cries out with Jesus’ followers in the Gospel, “Lord, give us this bread always!”

The Mass is about hospitality, making people feel welcomed, the gathering of the parish community, it is about good music, it is about good homilies, it is about ritual and liturgy, but most of all, it happens on a deeper spiritual level, it is about our encounter with the Risen Lord.  It is about the Lord speaking to us the words:  “I love you.”  And our response of gratitude and love to the Lord.  Unless we experience the Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist, we have not yet understood the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:  I am the Bread of Life.

Have a Blessed DayZAsZ

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Let the young boy willing to share his barley loaves and two fish be our examination of conscience. What keeps us from sharing with people in need?

Today we remember the most famous picnic in religious history. Today’s Gospel recounts the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand with the multiplication of the loaves and the fish.

I invite you to envision this well-known miracle story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish in a new way.

Imagine that the hungry crowd of 5,000 people represents all the people we will encounter through this coming week, beginning at the dismissal rite of this Mass.  These are the people God puts in our path as we journey this week … obviously your family members, the people who have gathered for this Eucharistic celebration in our parish community, the people you work with and vacation with, the incidental people you meet during the course of the week, the person in the car driving ahead of you and so on and son on.

These are all God’s people.  In some real ways, they are hungry for that which gives them life.  They may or may not be physically hungry, but they are spiritually and emotionally hungry for the fullness of life.   Lord calls us to move out of our comfort zone and do something about it.

Do we think of ourselves as people having a responsibility to feed the hungry in our midst?  To be clear from the Gospel, we are missioned to feed the hungry – the physical, emotional and spiritual hunger of people whom the Lord places in our lives.

Imagine further that we are the five barley loaves and fish that Christ distributes in the world.  Yes, if we envision the Gospel account in this way, we are all challenged to give of ourselves in the service of others.  This is our spirituality.  This is the meaning of stewardship.  Pope Francis in his homily on this miracle account says its spiritual message is more about sharing than multiplying.

As the Body of Christ, we are commissioned to wash the feet of God’s poor and feed the hungers of people we share life with.

Barley loaves are the food of the poor.  Let our loaves represent that which is most broken, most vulnerable within us.  Let the barley loaves stand for the risk and vulnerability involved in reaching out to others, in moving out of our comfort zone in the service of others.  Let the loaves we distribute be like the risks of faith that our parents and grandparents, many within this very parish, took as they lived the life to which Christ called them and to which Christ calls us.  Thank you for the sharing that you do in financially contributing with your offertory envelopes.  This generosity is essential to support the ministries of the parish.

But to be clear, we are called also to share of ourselves in feeding the spiritually and emotionally hungry that the Lord places in our lives.  In the Gospel account, God met the hunger of the people, beginning with the generosity of one of the least among them – the young boy who was willing to share his five barley loaves and two fish.  May this young boy who was willing to share be our examination of conscience for us.  What reasons do we give for not sharing some of our perfectly disposable gifts?

Thus young boy also provides an inspiration:  Whenever we are discouraged by the demon of “What good can my little bit do (whether of money, time, or effort), we should remember that God can multiply our little bit.”

As we consider and take responsibility for our mission collectively as a parish community, we are sent forth as the Church of St. Joseph’s to be a Church of Mercy.  As we are fed and nourished in the mystery of the Eucharist, we are to share the giftedness we have been given.  We are to share our five barley loaves and two fish so that the Lord reveals His love to the hungry through our generosity.  The Lord is merciful to us so that we can be merciful to others.

This Gospel miracle account is good news because it tells that God is concerned about people who hunger.  It is good news because it reminds us that God can work wonders with the little we have if we are willing to give it all.  It is good news because it reminds us that with God in our midst, we can always make a banquet out of what seems to be pretty poor fare.

In the Gospel account, there is more here than just a great number of hungry people being wondrously fed and satisfied.  Jesus is gathering with the hungry in the context of a shared meal, not only to feed and to be fed but to enter into covenant with all those present.  Here Jesus sets an example for those who follow him in ministry.  Our task is not simply to dole out food but to take, bless, give thanks and share our food together with the hungry and the poor, thereby sealing our relationship with them.  We are to offer nourishment as well as commitment, food as well as fellowship.

The true miracle is not the multiplication of loaves and fish, but the multiplication of God’s grace.  The God who is the source of all life offers us the possibility of participating in the divine life by our sharing with others our five barley loaves and two fish.

When Jesus and the disciples ate together with the crowds who had gathered that day by the Sea of Galilee, they were announcing by their sharing that a new relationship was being established between Jesus, the disciples and all the hungry whom they fed.

Moreover, the meal of barley loaves and fish by the Sea of Galilee anticipated another even more significant meal that Jesus would host with his own.  This meal would remember the gift of himself on the cross and the covenant made with sinful humankind through his blood.  That meal would celebrate the union in love that believers would forever thereafter enjoy with God, with Jesus, with one another, in the Spirit.

The bread we receive from the hand of God is more than mere barley loaves.  It is the Eucharistic bread of full life, life in all its dimensions, life in Christ.  As we are fed and nourished at the Table of the Lord, we are sent forth to share our five barley loaves and two fish with the hungry people in our midst.

Have a Blessed Day.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

God will hold us accountable for the good things we fail to enjoy.

In the Gospel, Jesus is calling the apostles to rest.  Jesus said:  “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” 

The message here about our need for rest and renewal is genuine, not selfish.

Of the Ten Commandments, the least-thought-of commandment is the Third Commandment:  Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.  We are clear about dimension of this commandment as it refers to Sunday Mass.  The Sunday Eucharist is to be a part of the rhythm of our life.  What is less clear about this Commandment is that we keep the Lord’s Day holy by resting, by renewing ourselves, by remembering what is important in life.

We need to reclaim a sabbatical consciousness.  By that, we need to be able to rest – not just in the sense of taking a nap or even taking a vacation, but resting in the presence of our loving God who wishes to renew us in spirit day by day.

What is your “Out of the-Way Place” that enables you to rest a while?  It may be a place on the water or in the mountains.  It may simply be a favorite chair -- perhaps not located in front of the TV, but in a quiet prayer corner of your home.  It may be a relaxing walk along the canal path or a place to experience the sunrise. 

I would invite you to think of this dimension of your spirituality.   God will hold us accountable for the good things we fail to enjoy.  We are blessed in so many ways.  Pope Francis in his writings wants us to rejoice and be glad.  He has written the JOY OF THE GOSPEL and the JOY OF LOVE.

In the rhythm of the spiritual life, there needs to be both a time apart and a time with others.   In the time apart, we need to be comfortable with solitude – time to be, time to be still in the presence of God.  It has been said wisely:  Beware of the person who cannot be alone. This person can use community as a way of running away from themselves.

We need to find time in our day for prayer.  But Father, my day is too crazy.  I’m too busy.  If we are too busy to pray, yes, we are too busy.  I invite you to find sometime in your day to waste time with God.  That is what prayer is – wasting time with God.

Back to the Gospel, “when Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.”  In the rhythm of our spiritual life, there needs to be time for personal prayer; there also needs to be time in which we do what Jesus did.

Our spiritual life is not merely about our personal piety; our spiritual life is to be lived out in the service of people in need.  This is how Jesus lived.  This is how the disciples of Jesus are to live. 

There are so many people searching today, people hungering for instruction, good people who are looking for direction.  They may be parents who are sick with grief over the future of a troubled child; a man stripped of his dignity by unemployment; a woman facing pregnancy alone; elderly people who feel the diminishing surge of life in their bodies; people who are angry and confused because they have lost confidence in leaders, whether political or religious.  They are people looking for answers and for meaning.  They are like sheep without a shepherd.  To whom should they turn?

Who for you is a good shepherd in your life that leads you to Jesus who is the Good Shepherd of us all?

As a people of God, as the disciples of Jesus, as the community of the baptized, our call is to shepherd one another.  It doesn’t mean they we have all the answers, but it does mean that we are to offer our loving support and service to one another.  It does mean that in Christ Jesus we are brothers and sisters to each other.

In the rhythm of our spiritual life, prayer leads to our service of one another, and our service of one another leads us back to prayer.  It is the Lord who is the Good Shepherd of the lives of us all.  The Lord is be a part of the rhythm of our lives.   Our responsorial psalm is psalm 23.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.”  May we always know that we are never abandoned by a God whose love is made known to us in Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is always concerned about people.  Notice in the first part of today’s Gospel account, Jesus is concerned about the well-being of his disciples even more than the success of their mission.  Jesus invites them to come away and rest for a while.  Then when Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Always, Jesus places people first.  He wishes to the Good Shepherd of his disciples as well as the vast crowd of people.

May you embrace the grace of today’s liturgy and allow Jesus to be the Good Shepherd of your life.  Allow yourself to be loved by the Lord.  May our summer mantra that the Lord will hold us accountable for the good things we fail to enjoy.

Have a blessed day.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Jesus wants his disciples to trust in Him and to companion one another.

In today’s first Scripture, Amos was a most reluctant prophet.  God called him through the high priest Amaziah.  Amos initially resisted God’s call saying he was a simple shepherd.  He did not have any qualifications.  God had seen something in the prophet that he did not see in himself.

The question Amos then faced was he open to trusting in the Lord? What steps did he need to take to more fully rely on the Lord?  Yes, Amos embraced the call of God in his life, and he became a fearless prophet.

I wonder what God sees in each one of us as we are called to evangelize – to be in the words of Pope Francis’ spirit-filled evangelizers.  Do we resist God’s call like Amos? My hunch is God sees something in us.  Are we open to relying on God’s grace working is us?  Our Gospel question is what steps do we need to more fully rely on the Lord?  This is a most important question we need to ask ourselves.

This October, seven of our parishioners including myself are going on pilgrimage to Tanzania.  We are visiting and supporting and praying with the great ministry of Father Damien Milliken and the religious sisters headed by Sister Evetha who teach in the Catholic girls high school in a region of Tanzania that is deprived of many of the comforts of life we take for granted.  Our parish under the leadership of Jack and Mary Skvorak and Lori Mahar have been generously tithing to provide educational opportunities for these high school girls for a number of years.

I am finding step by step that this is quite a process to get ready for our trip.  We need to make an appointment with Passport Health connected with the Medical Center of the U of R to get the proper inoculations to ward off malaria and other diseases.  We need to get a visa to enter into Tanzania; provide for travel insurance; special clothing to protect you from insect bites, and so on and so on.  In a word, it’s a bit of a process.

Now I invite you to touch into my confusion as I pray over this Gospel.  Listen again:  “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He instructed them to take nothing f or the journey but a walking stick.”

Apparently Jesus wasn’t sending his disciples into Tanzania.  How am I to understand this Gospel?

How about us when we sometimes pay an extra baggage fee to accommodate all of our belongings?

In the journey of life, a key word in the commission that Jesus gave his apostles and in the commission Jesus gives to us is baggage.  What is our baggage?  Jesus is calling us to a Gospel simplicity -- possessions are not to weigh us down or to keep us from being dependent on God’s providence.  Extra baggage can give us the illusion of independence but what it does is it keep us from relying more fully on the grace of God?

At first glance, the Gospel seems to be referring only to physical baggage.   Jesus is saying that baggage can give us a false sense of trust and make us less reliant on our real source of energy -- the grace of God.

I would have us also to consider the emotional baggage that can too easily weigh us down and keep from a simplicity of lifestyle Jesus calls us to.  What emotional baggage do you carry around that is not of the missionary spirit Jesus calls us to?

n  Hurts from a significant relationship.
n  Judgments you make about other people.
n  Fears that keep you confined to a safe comfort zone.

In praying over this Gospel, all of us need to do an inventory of emotional baggage that weighs us down.  We need to pray for the grace of healing memories that keep us from being more free.

We need to let go of any baggage that keeps us from recognizing the dignity of the person in front of us. Theodore Roosevelt said:  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”   

The commission of Jesus to his apostles tells them what not to bring but also what they are to bring.   In announcing the Good News of the Gospel, Jesus sent them out two by two.  They were not  to be lone rangers.  They were to companion one another on the journey and be companioned by others.
Jesus has not sent us alone.  Jesus has given the faith community of St. Joseph’s.  We are meant to rely on one another so as not to be distracted by our belongings, by our stuff.  Many of us have more stuff than we need.  I count myself in this number.  Our stuff can certainly be a distraction from the ministry of evangelizing.

Jesus wants his disciples to rely on one another rather than vast and mighty possessions.

What motivates to be a parishioner of Sr. Joseph’s?  What do you get and what do you give as a member of St Joseph’s.  Our parish mission is the mission given to us by Jesus.  We are to be the sacrament of God’s love in the town of Penfield and in the surrounding communities.  We are to be the witnesses of the merciful love of Jesus to one another and to all.

Jesus sends us out two by two to carry on his mission of love and mercy and forgiveness.  Our relationship with one another is to help us deepen our relationship with the Lord.  Belonging to our faith community is all about the ways we together encounter the Lord in our lives.

Again, in sending us forth Jesus told us what to bring and what not to bring.  We are not to bring an excess of baggage in terms of rules, regulations, programs, stuff, and physical belongings.  What we are to bring is each other.  We are to be a family, a community of brothers and sisters who lift each other up.

Our strength in proclaiming the Gospel comes when we are a community of faith with the same mission.  Yes, each of us has our own uniqueness, our own spirituality, and our own craziness.  But we will discover the life of the Risen Christ when we come to come together as a community of faith to the Eucharistic table to be fed and nourished as the Table of the Lord.

Have a Blessed Day,

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Today's Scriptures invite us to experience God moments in the people and in the situations where we least expect.


The Scripture readings today invite us to experience God moments where we least expect.  In the Gospel today, when Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth to preach in the synagogue, the people who knew him best responded with disbelief.   They said:  “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother James and Joses and Judas and Simon?”

As far as the hometown folks of Nazareth were concerned, Jesus was too local to be important.  As one sage puts it, “an expert is someone who tells you everything you already know but comes from of town and is carrying a brief case.”  Jesus should be home making tables like his dad, instead of preaching n synagogues and working miracles and casting out demons. 

A question for our reflection is whether our preconceived notions of Jesus hinder us from recognizing his presence in the circumstances of our life.  The people of Jesus’ time might expect a word of God from the high priest in the Jerusalem temple, but not from a carpenter, not from Nazareth.  What we believe in the mystery of the Incarnation is that God is not an expert from heaven with a briefcase.  Rather God is to be found in our neighbor, our friend, our hometown wisdom.

Who for you is a most unlikely person to reveal God’s presence to you?   For me on the Fourth of July, I began the day celebrating the Eucharist at St Joseph’s and giving thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy as a nation.  The Eucharist is a God moment on the Fourth of July or on any other day. 

After celebrating Mass, I went golfing with a good priest friend Father Al Delmonte.  At the golf shop, as I was going to the first tee without any water, one of the golf shop workers ran up to me providing me with a bottle of water saying it was much too hot not to keep hydrated.  He was right of course but the God moment for me was his kindness in making sure I had this water. 

I pray that I and all of us are able to recognize God moments in the kindness of people we encounter each day.  May you find the presence of God in those you know and love so deeply?  No one is too local or too ordinary to be a bearer of God’s love for you.  As I said, in the mystery of the Incarnation, God is not an expert from heaven carrying a briefcase.  God is to be found in our ordinary encounters with our neighbor, our friends, the incidental people we meet each day who simply share with us hometown wisdom.

St. Paul in the second Scripture provides us with another deep insight in experiencing God where we least expect.

Paul writes:  “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.  ‘Three times I begged the Lord about this that it might leave me, but he said to me: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’  Paul then said, for the sake of Christ, ‘when I am weak, then I am strong.’”

Certainly anyone who knows much about the life of St. Paul would not view him as a weak man.  This is the man who, through his strong faith, puts his life in jeopardy constantly.  He endured imprisonment and shipwrecks.  Yet, he admits to having weaknesses.

There is something very humble in admitting one’s weakness.  Pope Francis reveals his humility in beautiful ways.  In his first description of himself as our Pope, Francis humbly says:  “I am a sinner.”  The message of this scripture passage is that recognizing and admitting our shortcomings is essential for us to have the strength Paul demonstrates.

The reason St. Paul finds strength in his limitations is because he is aware that the Lord will provide the power needed in the midst of those deficiencies.  Paul’s life is God-centered.  For the Apostle is true God-centeredness came from his weakness, rather than his strength.  For in his weaknesses, he grew to trust in God’s grace for his life.
However, note that Paul’s first prayer was that his thorn in the flesh would be removed so that he might be a better preacher of the Gospel.  So too, it is for us, we pray that we finally overcome the sins we have been confessing all of our lives.  We finally want to get it right and prove that we have the will power to live the kind of life we can be very proud of.

Yet, conversion happened for Paul happened when he switched gears.  Instead of praying that his thorn of the flesh would be removed, he boasted of his weakness.  Paul then said:  “For the sake of Christ, when I am weak, then I am strong.”

How would that work for us?  Can you imagine yourself boasting of your weakness?  And then say:  “When I am weak, I am strong.”

What success have you not achieved that is very important to you?  What would you like to give your children but are unable to?  What illness or handicap or addiction are you dealing with? What loss leaves an emptiness in your life?  What secret is too vulnerable for you to share with others?

These I suggest are your thorns in the flesh?   How can we embrace the virtue of humility and confess our shortcoming and acknowledge our need for God’s grace in our life?  This path, I would suggest, is your journey of conversion.

The virtue of humility does not come easily for any one of us.  We would like to see ourselves at the top of the ladder rather than the bottom of the ladder.  The way we are wired is that we want to be among the best and the brightest.  Yet, Jesus has given the example of the cross; he washed the feet of his disciples; and he came not to be served but to serve.

These Scriptures appropriately come to us during the ordinary time of the Church year.  The take home message for us during the ordinary time of the Church year is to find God in all of life, and to discover God’s presence in the ordinary moments of life, and to live our spirituality by doing little things with great love.
Have a Blessed Day.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Jairus's daughter lies dying today in the hearts of children in need all over the planet.

The loss of a child to illness or accident is every parent’s worst nightmare, a tragedy almost beyond imaging.  The pain of loss never goes away.  My sister Jean and her husband Bob lost their daughter Kara in a most tragic accident.  This happened back in 2001.  The grief my sister Jean carries with her never goes away.

In today’s Gospel, there is a girl of 12 years of age who is near death, struck down by an unknown illness, driving her father to extremes in his desperate search for help in going to Jesus.  Jairus risks being ridiculed and risks missing the last precious minutes in his daughter’s life.  When the news of his daughter’s death arrives, Jesus preaches the shortest sermon of his career.  He simply says:  “Do not fear, but believe.”  That sermon Jesus preaches to us as well who suffer from those human conditions in which we cannot control.  Do not fear but believe.

You are most welcome to ignore my lengthier homily and simply remember  the powerful words of Jesus:  “Do not fear but believe.”  God has not intended our world to be filled with anxiety and fear.  May we transform our fear into trust and faith that Jesus is with us as healer and Lord.

Trust me, l get it then after experiencing so painful a loss as the death of your child, it’s much easier to say the words of Jesus that to really believe, as you are caught in the paralysis of your grief.  Yet, may we bring our grief into the heart of God’s love for us.

When Jesus arrived at the house of Jairus,  he put the crowd outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her:  “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”

As we pray over today’s Gospel, may we be reminded that Jairus’ daughter lies dying today in little girls jeopardized by illness, lack of food and water and the necessities of life, the safety and the security they deserve.  Jairus’s daughter can be found in the children of Haiti, the children who live in Iraq and Afghanistan, the immigrant children at our border and all the children in need who live in this the wealthiest nation on the planet. 

What sort of miracle would it take for us to transform the world’s systems and the hearts of its people so that all children in need can rise up to new life?    What would it take? 

Yes, we are overwhelmed by the suffering of children around the world.  We may feel overwhelmed and helpless.  Yet, there can be no doubt that these children are very much the concern of God.  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether they are outside of our concern.  Rather, we pray that the concerns of God are very much our concerns as well.

We need to be able to see as God sees.  We need to have the heart of God.  As in the case of the woman who been afflicted hemorrhages for twelve years in today’s Gospel, Jesus did not see an unclean woman with uncontrollable bleeding, he saw a beloved daughter of God who is suffering.  May we too see in those who are suffering God’s beloved sons and daughters.

We may ask ourselves at times what keeps us from recognizing people in need as God’s beloved sons and daughters.  I find the words of Mother Theresa as very helpful.  Mother Theresa says:  “When our hearts area filled with judgments about others, there is no room left for love.”  May we repent of our judgments so that we may be able to love others as God loves them.

Another take-home message to today’s Scriptures that in our personal suffering, may we hold onto our spiritual identity as did this woman.  Her deeper spiritual identity gave her the courage to reach for God’s love as it was manifesting itself in Jesus.  God’s love is for God’s children, and she is one of God’s children.  This is her faith.  She can go now in peace. 

She touched the clothes of Jesus and was healed.  Do you believe that the healing touch of Jesus is meant for you as well?  What area of your physical, emotional or spiritual life stands in need of the healing power of Jesus?  What stress or fear or anxiety do you wish to experience a healing?  Maybe in some relationship of your life there is a healing for the healing grace of forgiveness.  What addiction in your life gets the best of you at times?  In what area of your life is Jesus not yet Lord?

This week’s Gospel speaks of the healing of two women.  It tells two different stories that are woven into one.  They both involve women in crisis.  We don’t know them by name, just by their need.

If you will, imagine ourselves as that 12 year old girl and Jesus taking us by our hand and telling us to rise and live:  “Talitha koum.”   Jesus gives life not only to the dead but to those of us who are only partially alive.  Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves because of some illness or setback, may we hear the healing of Jesus being spoken to us.  In deep gratitude, enjoy the blessedness and giftedness of this day and make a difference in someone’s life as a way of sharing your giftedness with people in need.  Our life really, really is a gift of God.

May you hear the words of Jesus spoken to you:  “Talitha koum” and “Do not fear but believe.”  Jesus is here today, and you have a chance to touch not only his clothes but his very body.  This is what we are privileged to do in the Eucharist.  Let us put our heart and soul into that privilege.  May we trust that the healing grace is meant for. you and me.

Have a Blessed Day.