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”.

Jul 19, 2015

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Part 1 on Hope

From first line of today’s Old Testament reading “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture” (Jer. 23:1-6) to the last line of the New Testament Gospel reading, “[Jesus’] heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34), we can now reflect on the journey from despair to hope.

Shepherds who mislead if left unchecked, lend themselves easily to exploitation, control and recklessness, using their position of influence irresponsibly.  Sheep without a shepherd, left to themselves, easily become anxious, afraid and can easily wander away into dangerous places, they get stuck and can easily despair.

There are many times in our lives when we feel the absence of a good shepherd. I am not talking about Christ, but of those whom he often entrusts the welfare of his people - sometimes they are our political leaders, spiritual leaders, parents, teachers, mentors and even celebrated artists and actors who, with the power to influence, can unfortunately easily lead us and our children astray. (If you have never heard the old fable of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, here’s the link )

It is understandable, that when we look out at the world we might be tempted to give up hope. Or when we look at our own lives and perhaps see ourselves trapped in our own sins and disappointments, one might be tempted to feel trapped. And this is why the Gospel of Christ, his Good News, is so very important. Because there are so many bad shepherds out there, it literally pains Christ to see us exploited by the rhetoric of fear and anger, so much so that he makes himself our shepherd, our good shepherd.

But notice how he does this. He doesn't simply replace the old system of shepherds with himself and has everyone now follow him in the same way they followed them. Instead, we are told in that final line of the Gospel, “he began to teach them many things”.  How does Christ teach?

When good teachers teach, they don’t simply give out information. Wikipedia can do that. When our Good Shepherd teaches, he shares his heart. But, when we talk about “heart”, we are not talking about emotions, sensations, moods and feelings. Our Good Shepherd Christ does not manipulate or exploit our fears or dreams.  No, the heart of God is anchored deep.  And maybe it’s no coincidence that the virtue of hope is represented by the image of the anchor.

Christ as our Shepherd is the only guarantee that, amid the storms, the changing tides, and the confusions, and even when tempted to despair, lost in the storm of even our own sins and weaknesses, with his grace, we will never drift too far away that we will become lost forever.

"O God, give me a firm hope, for I cannot be saved unless this virtue is firmly rooted in my soul. I need it in order to implore pardon for my sins and to attain my end. What delight hope gives to my soul, making it hope for what it will one day enjoy in heaven, and permitting it a partial taste here on earth of what it will savor, understand and possess eternally, which is You, my God.” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi)

Jul 14, 2015

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 6:7-13

One of the unique charisms of St. Margaret's Parish is our door-to-door apostolic work. During this past seven years, every week we have been sending forth parishioners, two by two, throughout our parish area. They have become, in effect missionaries, apostolic witnesses on behalf of Christ and his Church. They have walked every street and road in our parish and to date, they have knocked on the doors of at least 20,000 homes. 

I know some of you are here are at Mass because of an invitation to come back home maybe after many years away, or to begin afresh a search for God through the Church. I know that there are also a sizable number of military personnel and families who, like many new to the area, are happy to have found out about this local parish from a knock on the door, a postcard in your letterbox or from the invitation and efforts of a fellow Catholic (and that includes the guy who spent long hours designing and updating our parish website!)  

Each one of us are here because of the apostolic witness of someone else's efforts - from family, friends, and even strangers. And in doing so, whether explicitly realizing it or not, we are responding to what Christ asks of us in the Gospel we have heard today.  But, what about that last line, that tells us that the Twelve apostles "drove out many demons, and the anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them"? Have you done that recently in your missionary work?

This is not simply about exorcisms and administering the "Last Rites"! Be it locally or around the world, the Christian witness is to always bring the healing power of the Lord.  Every year we invite a missionary home to help us, not only to understand better how to be a Christian witness, but also how to cooperate with those whom we have sent forth to bring that healing spoken by Christ in Gospel we have listened to this Sunday, to the world.   

As part of the Missionary Cooperative Plan, I am therefore happy to ask a representative of the Medical Missionaries of Mary to now speak with us.

Jul 4, 2015

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 6:1-6

Our reflection on the portion of the Gospel we have just listened to, highlights how difficult it is to be effective bringing the Christian message into the familiar territory of our families, communities and to our society in general.

On one hand, we can be enthusiastic about sharing our faith with others, but then quickly react with our own disbelief when our well intentioned efforts are met with hostility.

On the other hand, we might look upon our faith as our own private affair and the only temptations we actively resist are when someone tries to change the way we see God or ourselves.   

Both these scenarios make a dangerous presumption - that God is what we want him to be and does what we wish him to do.  In other words, we can easily make God in our own image and likeness and paint Christ as we want him to be.  We can hide behind him as our protector who fights our corner for us.  Or we can look to him for inspiration as a gentle healer of the sick and compassionate to all.  And of course, this he does, but not on our own terms. 

But there is one line from the Gospel that we should not fail to notice and it deserves much of our attention, because it got a lot of attention from Christ himself.  It was not how his own townspeople reacted to his words that astonished Christ. Yes, they were impressed by his teaching - they were meant to be.  Yes, they took notice of reports that he was a miracle-worker, and they should have noticed. And there would have been something wrong with them all if they did not know he was their local carpenter and had family among them. But there was one crucial element that got Christ's attention. It was not how they saw him that was crucially important. It was what he himself saw in them, in his own people - what he might see in you and me.  We are told in the Gospel that he is “amazed by their lack of faith”.  So much so, that his healing ministry could not fully take root!

As we look out at the world and wonder, at times, how it has become so full of confusion, fear and anger - when we see so many threats to our personal, family and religious freedom, when we worry for our future and what will become of society, Christ is not amazed by our lack of knowledge as to who he is. He is, I would say, amazed by our lack of faith.  When we presume we know someone, when we think we have them all figured out, how quickly it is to become bored with the relationship and loose faith!

So what do we do?  Even though we can be very familiar with the words of the Scriptures and the prayers of the Mass, if we are to see Christ's power to heal our broken world continue, then, in his presence, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent, bored or take him for granted.

Christ was amazed by the lack of faith of his own people. How much faith do we need?  Only to have the faith the size of a mustard seed, that's a simple and good investment to begin with. 

St. Paul came to this lesson late in life. He grew up with a great and powerful knowledge of God. But God, amazed by his lack of faith, knocked him to the ground, and then only slowly, gently, planted the gift of faith deep within him. Sometimes it takes us to be knocked off our "high horse", to be bruised a bit so that, with St. Paul we can hear those words "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness".

Finally, there was one local townsperson who listened to Christ preach that day in his home town of Nazareth and did not have any lack of faith in him. God's grace was sufficient and perfect in her lowliness  - Mary.  Even though she knew him as her son, she always had faith in him as God and Savior of humanity, even when she stood underneath the Cross.  St. Paul sums it all up for us when he reminds us "Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I and strong".

Jun 27, 2015

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

You will remember last week's gospel - the apostles in the midst of the storm, afraid they would not make it to the other side, even though Christ was with them?  The Lord in fact brought peace to the raging waters. Now he would be the instrument for harmony in the midst of a social battlefield for the future dignity of humanity. 

Whereas in today's Gospel passage (Mark 5:21- 43) everything takes place at once, in our own experience -be it as a community, as a nation, in our families or within our own lives - the tensions we experience in our lives and the forces at play in our world can seem to be often drawn out over time, decades, even centuries.  It is therefore worth reflecting on the following.
In the Gospel, Our Lord faces a battle on three fronts – 

1.  he must destroy two ancient curses - sickness and death. 
2.  he must bring peace and justice equally to both the rich and the poor. 
3.  he must restore the broken family relationships, between men and women, mothers and fathers, between children and between friends.   

This one Sunday Gospel spells out all these relationships. 

There is a father, a man of considerable influence in his community who faces the death of his daughter.  There is a mother, who is practically penniless and has been cut off from her family because her sickness. In both these scenarios the gift of faith is aroused, not from an outside force, but from within them. Both the man and the woman have now the opportunity to make a move in the direction of God as the ultimate source for the healing of body and soul.  

This is important to note - a literal moving in the direction of God brings healing and harmony. It's not staying at home and wishing it. God's grace propels us to action - to seek him out.

Too often we think that we have to run away to a quiet place in order to "find myself".  Sometimes we try to shut out the world or create our own little world in our pursuit for peace. Yes, there are times, when we have to withdraw in order to catch our breath.  But we should also be careful to note that in the portion of the Gospel we have listened to, the healing brought to both families takes place right in the midst of a crazy, stormy world.

The woman is caught up in the frenzy of a crowd of spectators who are all trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. The man whose daughter died brings the Lord into his house where a crowd is screaming, shouting and wailing. 

Much like when Christ had to quiet the storm at sea, now he has to quiet down the crowd. But the difference is, whereas when he was with them in the boat, his own disciples lacked faith while they were caught up in the midst of the storm, the man and the woman in today's Gospel in the midst of a storm of the crowd pushing and shoving them in so many different directions, demonstrated great courage and faith.

How do we search for the Lord?  Like the man in the Gospel, heart broken over his dying child, bring to the Lord that tender and at times wounded heart, acknowledging that what we love is often so fragile and the more we try to hold on it, the more painful it is for us when forced to let go. And like the woman in the Gospel desperately seeking a cure, healing, and strength - we also bring to the Lord our own weaknesses and fears, our hunger and thirst for true relationships with a loving family restored and true friends secured for life.

Don't be afraid of the storm of people, the craziness of a society gone wild - still Our Lord is the midst of the storm and so are we.  Our faith in Christ, the Prince of Peace, will slowly bring back to its proper design, the world as God intended it. It may not happen according to our timeline or within our lifetime. But, regardless, like the man and the woman in the Gospel - we have to slowly but confidently swim against the tides of public opinion that are quick to ridicule any soul that seeks healing from God alone.  

This gospel passage also shows us that, “alongside the healing of wounds of body and mind, Jesus also forgives the sins which affect the spirit – he removes the weakness of the flesh and thus is able to heal the whole person [body and soul]” (c.f. St. Ambrose Expos. Gospel of Luke 5.12-13)

On this, the Lord's Day, we bring to him the bread and wine of the old creation, which left simply to the elements of this broken world, will corrupt and decay - much like us. But through the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine change - using the language of the Gospel today, dare I say they are "healed", given new life to become for us the Risen Lord himself.  In the storm of the frenzied crowds, may our participation in this holy sacrament allow us to recognize our own sickness of mind, body and soul.

May we rediscover the gentle and courageous gift of faith, demonstrated in the Gospel, which allows us to always courageously approach the Lord without fear of the crowds.

Jun 22, 2015

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

So many times Christ would gather his chosen disciples around him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and looking out beyond its waves would say, "Let us go to the other side." How many times did they all jump into a boat, make that trip across and after a few hours, arrive at other side of the lake and carried on, not looking back? Many times!

And so, when I often think about this particular "passage", I'm often tempted to wonder why... how Christ could sleep at the back of a fishing boat in the midst of a ferocious storm at sea. I imagine the scene - the four apostles who were professional fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John - shouting orders, pulling on the ropes, trying to prevent the sail from tearing, or the boat capsizing, swinging themselves from one side of the boat to the other, following instinctively the drill they had so often times repeated.

Then, I think of the other apostles who were more "city slickers" - their hand clutching into the wood of the boat, fearing for their lives, panicking, screaming. Matthew, I can see him, sea sick, his face green, throwing up and maybe moaning to himself, "I knew I shouldn't have had that fish taco".  I can imagine educated Philip, who could speak Greek. I'm sure he had some colorful words for St. Peter! Or Thomas, who dreamed of following Our Lord into Jerusalem and dying heroically with him there, now looking at watery grave, thinking to himself that this was not the way he imagined himself dying.

I imagine pandemonium at the front of the boat, as if they were in a battle with Moby Dick, but at the back, - there's Christ, sleeping. Sleeping? And even though we see the apostles fighting for their lives to control the boat in an episode like the battle for the South Pacific, and with huge waves crashing over a vessel quickly taking on water, the writer of the Gospel also notes, to highlight that our Lord is in another world, that the Lord is sleeping soundly, with a pillow under his head! Incredible!!!

As they headed down to the harbor earlier that day, Christ told them as he no doubt often did, "Let us go to the other side." Sometimes when we reach our goal, our destination safely, it's easy to forget that he was the one responsible for initiating it.  But often times, when we get caught up in a storm, when we are only half way there and get stuck, how easy it is in our fear and anxiety, to forget that he said those words, "Let us go to the other side". That means we "will" arrive safely at our destination. After all, he is a man of his word and he does not abandon his ship. Our faith in his word, in the strength of his sacred vessel, the Church, must be stronger than our fear is of this world.

So, how do we sail our ship? I take comfort from St Augustine. At a time when the city of Rome was sacked, the Roman Empire was beginning to crumble and his city was besieged, the saint does not lose his cool. Instead, reflecting on the Gospel he reminds us that when you have to listen to abuse because of our Christian faith and sometimes having to taking it on the chin, that means you are being buffeted by strong winds. But he also warns us. When anger is aroused, yes, it is like being tossed around by the waves… but be careful. The temptation to retaliate and to get even, brings with it another kind of misfortune of being caught in a storm at sea – shipwreck. (cf. Sermon 63.1-3).

So, what is our lesson? Every morning, Our Lord tells us, "Let us go to the other side".  He knows the destination of every path and the challenges we will face on every side.  Heard his direction.  Learn from him, even when you find yourself being tossed about, in a panic or up to your neck in it! Even in the greatest storm, in him there is no panic, nor is there fear - only peace.  They could have rode out the storm because Christ was with them in the midst of it - they were always safe. In fact, the sleeping Christ had more faith in him his sailors than they had in him as their savior!

Let us pray that
1.  We will never take for granted the Lord's advice regardless of how many times we've heard it,
2.  That we will never panic in the midst of the storm, assured that God trusts himself in our hands as much as we do in his and
3.  That we will never let pride or forgetfulness ever get in the way of us asking him to come to our rescue.

Our Lady of Safe Refuge, Pray for us!

Jun 14, 2015

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God”.  We even pray , “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of the Our Lord’s teaching and preaching.  He kept referring to a Kingdom - not a Kingdom in the sense of a government with laws that would regulate the lives of it’s citizens.  Instead, this “Kingdom of God” looked forward to a time, an event, to circumstances when God’s influence would somehow shape people’s lives and their relationships with each other. And they would see God.

The people of Israel who heard Christ knew about kingdoms. Throughout its long and troubled history, the Holy Land was invaded by the Persian Kingdom, the Assyrian Kingdom, the Egyptian Kingdom, the Greek Kingdom and the Roman Kingdom. When they heard Christ talk about ushering in the Kingdom of God, many who heard him would naturally think about Christ rallying in some sort of revolution, a takeover.  Was Christ talking about planting seeds of an eventual uprising, telling his followers to be patient - that their time would come when they would mark on behalf of God to the capital and throw out the godless and destroy their enemies?

Christ’s model of a Kingdom was different. Ever so gently, without fear or panic, planting seeds, little seeds here and there, deep in the soil of our hearts and souls, Christ provides us with his own example of patience, gentleness, never losing an opportunity to teach us by his words, by his own example of healing and through his own standard of justice and mercy. Christ himself is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God. But remember how he was treated when he did not meet our expectations or our standards of what a kingdom should be - crucified to death with a mocked title above his head - "King of the Jews".

If Christ's Kingdom is not of this world's making, how do we participate in that Kingdom?  We do so, by embodying Christ himself.  Last week we celebrated the great solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.  Through our participation in this great sacrament, we can allow Christ to embody us.  And by doing so, we must allow him to influence our lives and our relationships, how we relate to those around us, especially the weak and the vulnerable.  The Kingdom of God, is the faithful imitation of the merciful and compassionate Christ.  

The Church is also the embodiment of Christ in the world, pointing to the Kingdom of God. The small mustard seeds of faith planted and tested in the lives of the first Christians two thousand years ago, have over time, grown into a large tree that spreads her branches far and while.  In our long history, we have experienced at times great growth, at other times famine. This great tree has at times been attacked and wounded. Other times, it has been dormant and looked dead and neglected.  But it’s roots, formed by the seed planted by Christ himself, the sacrifice of his body buried in the earth, continue to be fed by his life giving Body and Blood

So,  when we look around at the world, or even when we don’t see the flowers blooming from the Tree of Life, be assured, in every generation seeds have fallen to the ground.  And when the time is right, and only God knows when, the good seeds we have planted will grow and flourish into a great and bountiful harvest for future generations.  So, in the meantime, be patient, be Christ-like, and look to the future with hope. God’s Kingdom of justice and Mercy will in time embrace the whole world.