Aug 30, 2015

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
As we try to understand our relationship with the world around us, we will naturally begin from a point of reference that "makes sense", literally.  But Our Lord reminds us that we should not judge the world or our relationships only on exteriors or appearances.
Our Catholic Catechism tells us “To attribute the efficacy [value] of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition. “(ccc 2111)

Superstition comes from fear. When we do not trust that God has our best interests at heart, when we are afraid that that he not do what we demand of him (!), or because of our impatience and nervousness, many people will "attempt" to manipulate particular prayers and even abuse religious signs or spiritualities in an attempt to push their own agenda through, or to try to control the outcome of an event. This is driven by fear and control.
The Gospel is a call to faith, to trust – to have faith in our heavenly Father who we have no reason to fear.  There is no justifiable reason why we should look to anything else to guide us, or to superstitious rituals to bring us “good luck”. To do so would imply that God does not listen to our prayers. But be does, for this reason Jesus told us to call God “Father”. He does and always answers them, but maybe not the way we want him to. When we do not get things our own way or think that we deserve what is good because we worked for it, the Gospel of Jesus Christ urges us to examine our motives for the way we live our lives.
Jesus came to free us from fear, to give us the strength to see the Commandments, how to live a morally upright life, as a gift from God. The Ten Commandments, even though they may challenge they way we live, are given to us, not as burden to live under, but as gift to secure and protect our freedom and that of our neighbor.
The Christian accepts this moral code of life and living, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love and respect of our heavenly Father. And so, our motives for prayer, for acts of charity, the way we express our hopes and wishes to God, must come from an attitude of trust and not fear, even though we do not necessary see the big picture.

And our course, our Blessed Mother Mary shows us discipleship without fear, with tender love and total trust, especially when faced with the crucified body of her Son. She trusted that God would be victorious even though at that time she could not see or predict the events of the future. Let us pray for the gift of her patience and for a greater trust to allow, in our hearts, God's plan to gently unfold in its own proper time.

Aug 22, 2015

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 6:60-69

We note from the Gospel today, that many of Jesus’ disciples turned away from him, abandoned him, not because they misunderstood his language – they understood him perfectly. Instead, they could not accept his words when he told them that his flesh and blood were real food and drink that they must actually consume if they were to have eternal life.

If they understood Jesus to be speaking symbolically, figuratively, they would not have left him in such great numbers, numbers so great that Jesus reacts strongly, turning to Peter and the apostles asking them if they too wanted to go.

St. Peter may not have had the intellectual “smarts” to explain how bread would be turned into the sacramental heavenly Body of Christ. Instead, in his wonderful peasant faith, infused with God's grace, he knew to trust in the standard of heaven, not earth - that for God all things are possible and that the words of Jesus were not the words of a mere holy man talking about holy bread. These were the words of God himself, providing the means for his disciples to be fed by his very life giving body and blood.

What is to become of the bread and wine during our celebration of the Mass is one of the truly unique, and indeed, astonishing teachings of our Catholic faith, passed down to us from Christ and the apostles. That the bread and wine of the Mass can truly become the substance of Christ’s heavenly body and blood is so astonishingly a part of our faith that we could not even make something like this up, even if we tried!

Is this teaching hard? Yes it is! But this is the language of Jesus - these are his words, not mine or yours. He has the words of eternal life - I don't. We do not write the text book! We can reflect upon his words, we can use adjectives to explain them. And sometimes, we just can't! Christ speaks to us in terms of the standard of heaven, not earth. Our Faith is never on our own terms. It is always on his. That's what we mean when we talk about the scandal of the cross!  St. Paul understood this when he said, "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1.23) Sometimes we just can't get our head around it. We need the peasant faith of the fisherman, open to God's grace. 

As St. Peter reminds us, all we have is Jesus; there is no one else we can turn to for eternal life. We do not turn to philosophers for eternal life, nor to theologians and definitely not to politicians or celebrities! Only Christ. Let us listen to his words and be prompted by his Spirit to believe what he says is true and life-giving.  

Again, this is a message of hope - God’s love and mercy is always greater than our own highest expectations, more than we can ever imagine or ever dream off - and for us on this side of heaven, God's love and mercy for the sinner who he wants to feed with his very own life, is surely the most hardest teaching for us to truly comprehend.

Aug 17, 2015

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 6: 52-59

The very moment we come into this world, we need to be fed, we want to be fed. This is our natural state. We are always hungry. We need to eat. In fact, we are told that the word for “mother” in all its various languages throughout the world comes, not from a single root word from an ancient language describing a natural relationship - the word is actually coined from the lips of babys reaching out with their lips for nourishment, hence the “m” sound is prominent in "mother" in every language. The need to be fed comes naturally to each of us.

Our minds need also to be fed and our hearts: The human being, made in God’s image and likeness is created for relationships. Take for example, one of the cruelest and most disturbing punishments, worse I believe than the death penalty - solitary confinement. Cut off from the world, but especially from meaningful human relationships and contacts, the mind is dulled and the heart becomes hardened. It is a mental and emotional slow death by starvation - that is psychological torture. I’m not simply thinking of prisoners. It’s anyone we abandon, isolate and ignore.

The body, the mind and heart - but also the soul. It needs to be fed. But be careful. Let’s not think of the soul as an independent component. The soul is at the deepest core of our being. It is what gives dignity and nobility to our humanity, made in the image and likeness of God.  Because every part of my flesh and blood is infused with the soul, angels look upon our physical form with wonder and awe. Devils look upon us with envy and jealousy. Our soul too is hungry, is restless - restless until it is fed by God, nourished by the substance of heaven.

If you could now reach your hands into heaven and hold the substance that feeds the soul, what would it be? Or if you could stretch out your head like a little child to taste with your tongue nourishment for your soul, what would it be?  Bread that feeds your stomach? No.  Spiritual insight that fills your mind? No. A feeling of warmth to our heart? No. Because of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and his ascension into heaven, the substance of heaven is not his picture, his memory or his spirit, but the real life resurrected body and blood Jesus Christ.  

My dear friends, we all hunger for Holy Communion with Christ. But God has made sure that we must pass through all the lesser hungers in order to appreciate the delights of our highest hunger.  If we are not looking after our own physical needs for proper nourishment and physical well being and those of our brothers and sisters, then receiving the substance of heaven on an empty stomach can do more damage to our soul than any good. When we cannot forgive our neighbour or reach out in love our enemies, or when live in a manner unworthy of the Gospel, dare we taste the Bread of Angels when ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters?  

If we are to delight in this taste of the substance of heaven, then let our good works of mercy be for us an appetizer to what feeds our soul. This fleshes out in our own lives the life of Christ who from this altar feeds us with his very flesh and blood infused with resurrected glory.

Aug 14, 2015

The Assumption of Mary, Body and Soul into Heaven

There is, outside the old city walls of Jerusalem, at the bottom of the Mount of Olives, an ancient burial place, steps lead down into a dark crypt. Within it, is the tomb of the Virgin Mary.  Its custodians, who have guarded it with their lives from one generation to another, are quick to point out that it is and always was an empty tomb.

For where her soul in heaven would glorify the Lord, so too her body. She was a woman who had it together (that is, body and soul perfectly in tune with each other, something we don’t have because of our constant distraction by sin) Mary, through the brief sleep of death passed into heaven, complete - body and soul, in perfect symphonic harmony.

Now we could speak of many images to describe the beauty of the Mother of God, some quite sentimental, others very mystical, some technically theological and others, ecclesiologically eschatological. !!! But let’s keep it simple.

From the first instant of her existence, through every cell of her immaculate body, Mary’s soul always glorified God.  In her womb, she give God the material to give body to God. God entrusted himself to be mothered by her, to be nursed by her, as alluded to in the Gospel we have just listened too.

Think of his body. It always points back to hers.

When we behold Christ the baby born and placed in the crib,
Christ the carpenter eyeing the grain in the wood,
or Christ healing, by touching the sinner or writing with his finger on the sand,
or his feet walking on the sea,
or his strong arms lifting up Peter from a watery grave,
or his skin being lacerated by the whips and pierced through by the nails and the spearhead,
or his body, lifeless in death, but glorified in resurrection.
And as the New Adam, lifted up from the earth into the new paradise, again “is not right that the man be alone”, and so the New Eve also to reign with him.

Mary gave God a body. Is it any wonder that this salvific material, perfectly attuned to a soul that constantly glories the Lord like a golden rose, would never lose its form?  

May this Holy Eucharist, where we are fed with the Glorious and Risen Body and Blood of the New Adam, literally shape us more and more, body and soul, into his living image and likeness. And may we be recognised also as children of the New Eve who sees the resemblance of her Son in us.

Aug 10, 2015

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

John 6: 41-51

It’s not enough to simply say, “Jesus is the answer”. Christ is not a concept. Christianity is not a philosophy of life.  Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God - literally. We are talking about, “real meat and potatoes”!

“The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Let us meditate on this "Flesh" that he gives for the salvation of the world:

1. God becomes flesh and blood in the Christ Child of Bethlehem and is placed in the arms of Mary his mother, who nurses him with tender love and affection.
2. St Joseph trains the young boy's body in the carpenter's shop, felling trees, lifting heavy wood and splitting logs, teaching him the art of skilled labor -  his young body grows and the blood in his veins pumps through his every muscle.  
3. As an adult, Christ's steady hands reached out to heal lepers.
4. His strong arms hold secure a playground full of children climbing upon him wanting his blessing.
5. His voice would rise the dead to life,.
6. His spital would make the blind see.
7. His feet would walk on the waters.
8. His breath would give power to forgive sins,
9. His look would turn the raging sea calm,
10. His roar sends demons fleeing back to hell,
11. His compassionate heart multiplies bread for the hungry,
12. His gentle whisper brings back to life a little girl,
13. His tears raise Lazarus his friend from the dead,
14. His body is glimpsed on a mountain top bursting forth in spectacular heavenly light.
15. On the cross this miraculous human body of a divine person was ripped apart on calvary.
16. On the third day, it was rose from the dead and entered into eternity, more powerful than before.

This is the Flesh that saves the world. It's not made of paper, or a concept that we look at, read into and ponder upon. It is a Flesh and Blood Sacrament - its substance is not the stuff of wheat or the juice of grapes. The substance is Christ himself, present in the Sacrifice of the Mass with the power to save the whole world. This Sacrament of his Body is true power. 

So when we dare approach this altar to receive Holy Communion, we do so first knowing ourselves weak and vulnerable, naturally a little fearful and maybe somewhat cautious, but always conscious of our sinfulness and always confident in the love and the strength of Christ who saves me, even now, through his glorious and eternal, real and substantial flesh and blood.

Aug 3, 2015

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hope Fulfilled (part 3)

For these past few weeks we have been reflecting on the theme of hope. This supernatural virtue is the antidote to despair.  It is a gift from God that allows us to keep going, even when we find ourselves fighting against the odds. But hope, keeps us fighting - not in desperation, despair or in anger. The gift of hope allows us to reach towards heaven, even when we feel abandoned, lost or when we are “tempted” to despair, or regret (c.f. the Hebrews in the First Reading)  

If we actually desire this gift from God, then he will give us the necessary help, first to realise that union with him is where our lives ultimately point to, and second, that he nudges us every so often to waken us up, to realise but we can easily get side tracked, distracted, thrown off course.

It often takes a rude awakening for us to realise that we have misplaced our hunger for God, with a false god or a false memory (cf. again the Hebrews thinking of the food of Egypt and forgetting that they were slaves!). And so it takes another virtue, that of humility to approach Christ with trust, admitting in truth that we have hungered not for him, but for passing things. But this, admittedly, is easier said than done.

So, in a world so much saturated with the dripping fat of the most flavorful delights to our appetites and cravings, with billions of dollars pumped into thirty second advertising designed to unlock the basement of our natural cravings, how do we cultivate an appetite for Christ the Bread of Eternal Life?

And when you think of it. How does bread, in all its simplicity, compete with, for example, cake with all its trimming, additives and artificial coloring that tantalizes our senses?  We profess that we believe in things visible and invisible, but yet it is the visible things that attract us more so than what we can not see or feel. When Christ calls himself the Bread of Life, it seems quite philosophical and academic - not as exciting as a choir singing Eagles Wings or You Raise me Up!

So how do we, with God’s grace, develop and cultivate an appetite, a hunger that seeks union with God, Communion with Christ.

A few things come to mind.

First, it is important to instill in our children at an early age, a good habit of prayer.  Every child should be able to recite, at least the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Why? Equipped with at least the memory of these heavenly words, when they get older and are tempted to despair or give up, these words, given to us by Christ himself to pray,and the words spoken to Mary by an angel, can often direct our attention heavenward. That simple redirection of our focus in times of difficulty is often times the beginning of the hope and the desire for God’s help.

Second. Pleasure is not a bad word. In it’s purest form, it evokes joy. It is important that we foster innocent and pure delights. For example, God has filled his world with so many natural wonders, miracles of nature that can not be captured in a youtube video or instagram. When is the last time you gazed with wonderment above you at the stars of heaven in the night sky, the miracle of a newborn life, the beautiful complexity of colors captured in a setting sun or the carefully blended flavours of true neapolitan icecream?

Therefore foster innocent and pure delights like these. If you do not, then later, impure delights and immoral pleasures easily rush in to play with the mind - like cheese to a mouse who can not see the mousetrap because he is distracted by the cheddar or the smell of peanut butter smeared on the carefully positioned devise!

This is why St. Paul speaks, in the Second Reading, about “putting away the old self or your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires and be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

When, with the help of God and with all our strength, we are able to push aside all the false pleasures and fast food solutions and distractions to our deepest hunger for God, then our soul’s desire will be free to seek the invisible Christ, and the pure joy of simple and pure satisfaction of tasting the Bread of Eternal Life.  That is not simply the fulfillment of hope. That’s pure satisfaction. In this Eucharist, we get a little taste of that heaven, which is Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

Jul 28, 2015

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Part 2 on Hope

John 6:1-15

The miracles performed by the Prophet Elisha in the Old Testament reading and by Christ in the New Testament Gospel were not magical events to bring the people to a standing ovation, or to gain popularity or to distract them from the realities of life. A miracle is a sign that, in a particular place, at a particular time, heaven and earth become fused together - in other words, the Kingdom of God is visibly recognized through the event.

Whereas in the Old Testament the prophet Elisha was recognized as a man of God and spoke on behalf of God, in the New Testament the hope is that Jesus is to be recognized as the Son of God, who speaks the words of God as his own.

But unfortunately, the people we meet in the Gospel treat Jesus as just another prophet, a holy man like the prophets of old who could also feed multitudes with a few loaves of bread. Yes, they get fed, but they don't really know who he is. They hope he will feed them when they get hungry. In fact, the people want to make Christ King hoping that he will be their bread dispenser at the press of a button!

These two weeks, we have been reflecting on the virtue of hope, distinguishing it from simple optimism.  Hope encourages us, despite our weaknesses, disappointments, hardships and battles, hope- infused with God’s grace encourages to keep on going.

But can hope go wrong? Of course it can. How?

1. Putting our hope in the wrong thing.  Christian hope has at its goal to arrive at a point when someday we will possess God completely.  Our weaknesses and our sinfulness will often have us lower that goal and instead of pointing us toward God we convince ourselves that it’s best to settle for immediate goals such as as pleasure, fame or even professionalism (in the human sciences or even in “spiritual matters”).

2. Misguided hope. When our hope becomes less than God, we can open ourselves up to unnecessary hurt and disappointments that those around us are not perfect, and the causes we give ourselves do not in themselves bring lasting happiness.  Someone might have a misguided hope of what a relationship might be.  Or when we place all our hope in the in the latest and greatest - to find out we get eventually become bored!

3. There can also be defects of where we expect our hope to come from - when we think that our own value depends on our own goodness, our own expertise or knowledge - or that our goodness comes from what we are able to do. No, God feeds us, loves us, not because we are good.  He loves and feeds us because HE is good. He is and always is a good God : )

So how do we rediscover gain that deep, deep hunger, our soul’s thirst for God that no earthly bread can satisfy?

First, ponder this - if God’s love for me knows no limit, then my hope in God can never be only to a certain point. He will always exceed our greatest hope.  That’s the sadness of the Gospel today - that the people could only see Jesus as a breadwinner and not much more. We must be determined to go deeper and never let the thick paint of pride gloss over even past faults, our vulnerabilities or our weakness or even the memories of our sins.  Instead of allowing them to disturb us, they allow us to show God, not only how much we need him but we have confidence in his great love and mercy. “The hand of the Lord feeds us. He answers all our needs”.