Aug 11, 2018

In the Flesh

John 6: 41-51 The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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, his whole body 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. Nor did the Word of God become digitalized and downloaded among us. Christ is a Flesh and Blood Sacrament - his 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 5, 2018

The Taste of Hope

God's Word this Sunday allows to to reflect on Hope. 
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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, 2018

Context Lens!

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

"It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover", that's what John tells us just before he describes the event of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes. Why is this detail of the time it took place important?  It's a clue. When Christ does anything, it is always planned, it's never left to chance. He will not force his way through the events surrounding him, nor will he be forced into doing anything under pressure.

Our Lord always makes his move always at a certain time within a particular context of his own choosing, when something's happening around us. It maybe where we happen to be at a certain time, it could be not until a certain person crosses our path. Perhaps we first have to be our weakest, maybe our strongest. Maybe, it's when a particular event surfaces in our life, in our family life or even in society - only then might God provide a miracle in our lives, waiting for the right context of his own choosing, conducive to his needs (not necessarily ours) -  the the grace of God may stir.

In the event of the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, we are told in one little line by the Evangelist, "It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover".  Why was this necessary? Was this so that St. John could help the Bible scholar better place Christ's life and ministry in chronological order? Not likely.

Instead, Christ's chooses to give us a sign in a context, a backdrop, an event already happening.  In this case, the Jewish people were actively preparing for the passover remembrance. How did they do it? They prepared themselves by acts of remembering and reflecting about the great things God had done in ages past for them as a people. They were recalling how they had journeyed through the desert to a Promised Land of milk and honey. They recalled how in the desert they were tired, hungry and at times without hope that they would ever see their journey's end. But then, out of the silence, God came to their rescue. God provided them bread from heaven. He saved them, not with food for thought, but actual food for the journey. He gave them manna, bread from heaven. He gave them what they needed at the right time.

In our own hunger to seek a sign or a miracle at times from God, often in times of uncertainty, we may find ourselves desperately calling out to God for a quick fix to a pressing problem. At other times, we might try to force his hand - promise him this if he does that. Other times, we expect him to act in our favor because we have done so much, prayed so long, sacrificed so much.  Our Lord already knows the circumstances of our lives. Often he will act only within a context of his own choosing, not to prove to us that he is God. He is not the God who pulls rabbits out of hats! He helps us, when the time is right, to appreciate the bigger picture of spiritual lives, our hunger and his providence over all time and creation.

Notice also in the Gospel we have just heard - it was not the hungry followers who cried out to him for food. Nor, in this event, did his disciples try to convince him that now would be a good time for a miracle. Before ever a word from anyone, Christ himself takes the initiative at the right time. Why? Because, unknown to everyone else, out of his heart, which is pure compassion and mercy, our Lord will offer to feed us in the proper context, when he hopes the context will not be lost, so that we can see our whole lives and our life's journey in the bigger picture of his plan of salvation.

Now, shortly before we approach the altar of the Passover Lamb, to be fed by God, let us never be weary of using our time leading up to Holy Communion to see our lives and our life's journey in a greater context than just showing up to “go to” Mass.

So far, we have gathered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have hopefully prepared ourselves calling to mind our sins and the circumstances of our failures in discipleship, calling out for mercy.

Next, we have had the opportunity to see our lives in the context of God’s Glory in the highest, his victory and power over all creation.

We have just been invited to hear the Word of God speaking to us in the circumstances of our lives. And soon we will allow ourselves to weave it all together from the perspective of our Catholic faith handed down throughout the generations when each of us today as we say, I believe.  

And before we ourselves begin our immediate preparation to celebrate the Passover sacrifice of the Mass, we will look around at this hungry world, our community and our own lives to ask God to feed us. We do this now, in the context of our journey to the Promised Land, into his heavenly Kingdom where he lives and reigns forever.

Jul 23, 2018

Left Behind. Christ, not us!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mk 6:30-34 

After the apostles returned to him after their first missionary journey, we might think that Jesus was happy for their successes and accomplishments. But notice that first line. After returning, "the apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught".

The apostles first “missionary work” took place only with a fresh memory of Christ from the day before. Christ himself, did not go with them. Nor had the apostles, at this point, received the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit. They were very much driven by their own steam!

We might liken this to the excitement we might feel within us after attending an inspirational talk or conference on, for example Evangelization. When we arrive at the hotel hosting the conference, the the inspirational keynote speaker provides all the excitement and enthusiasm to motivate us into becoming missionary disciples. Added to this, we might spend much time and many dollars picking up material, resources, books from a litany of vendors strategically assembled at the back of the conference room. Then feeling exited and stocked up on resources, we hit the road, mission bent on evangelizing the world.

Although we might have followed all the directives from the missionary handbook, engaged all the techniques and downloaded all the social media software, as impressive as our religious convictions might be, without Christ himself actually accompanying us on our journey, it hard to know if we are actually doing God's work or our own.

For this reason, when the young apostles return from their first mission, the Lord takes them to a deserted place, to the wilderness. 

It seems our Lord is telling his apostles, and all those who share in their apostolic mission, that going forward to evangelize is only truly the work of God when we keep going back to the Lord who brings us, again and again to a desert place to be alone with him. He teaches us that he himself, not the manuals and programs, is the reason for our great adventures. It's a reminder, that all too frequently, we have to shut down our computers and smartphones, step back from social media, get away from "how to" books and success-driven programs that risk putting too much of ourselves in front of the driving wheel. It's easy to "rush in where angels dare to tread" and forget to invite Christ himself to join us. We have to be open to the fact that at times, Our Lord prefers not to!

The church we have gathered in this morning, takes us away from the landscape of this world. Here, the surroundings are different. The signs, images and symbols we see around us, the silence and the harmonies we hear tell us that we are now in a different place, a rendezvous where Christ waits for us. Through this Holy Eucharist we go meet him. Let us trust his words rather than our own senses. Let us trust his divine guidance rather than our own human instinct. May his Holy Spirit be our driving force when we go forth from here at the end of Mass, and may that same Spirit guide us back here next week to this place of encounter, where Christ speaks to us, listens to how our week was, explains, heals, nourishes, guides and forms us into his disciples, ready once again to be his missionaries.

“The bread of life is most valued not by the idle, or those who live in crowded cities encompassed with the honors of the world. It is rather most cherished by those who seek Christ in a desert place.” (Pseudo-Jerome: Homily on the Song of Songs)

Jul 15, 2018

Missionary Disciples

Mark 6:7-13

One of the unique charisms of St. Margaret's Parish is our door-to-door missionary disciples. During this past eight 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 missionary discipleship and 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 own 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 an missionary 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. Often our missionary work begins from the base camp of the parish. Outside of our local door to for missionary work, many of us are familiar with our own parish missionary work further afield- the "St. Emiliani Project" with Deacon Chuck who facilitates missionary work in Columbia among the most neglected of children and orphans living in the peripheries of Medellin.

As part of the Missionary Cooperative Plan, I am happy to introduce Brigid Ponce from St. Michael's Parish in Poway, who is also serving as a local missionary in a different area of Colombia, but where the challenges to childhood and adult literacy often prevent family reading the scriptures, prayer books and evening writing a letter. Please welcome Brigid from St. Michael's to tell us more and how we can help in this grassroots missionary effort...  

Jul 8, 2018

Lack of Amazing Grace

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 own families, our local 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 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 and experience so many injuries that cry out in great need for healing, often the result of fear, prejudice and isolation, Christ is not amazed by our lack of knowledge. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips.  Christ is, I would say, amazed by our lack of faith.  When we presume we know how someone ticks, have all the answers to societies greatest issues, when we think we have it all figured out and know what we have to do, it is more easy to be filled with knowledge than it is with faith in God's grace.

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 gentle power to bring healing into our broken world and relationships, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent, bored or take him for granted. 
You can download a lot of information on an app and run a program, but you can't download God's grace and hit enter! We must, as the Psalm reminds us, always begin, not from the data base of knowledge, but from with "Our eyes fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy".

As case in point is St. Paul.  He
 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 17, 2018

The Family on Earth as it is in Heaven

 Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine of Knock, Ireland

The image we have before us, witnessed by many first hand, depicts a glimpse into heaven. And what do we see? We see a family. We notice first the mother, Mary. Her son, Jesus, is depicted as a lamb. By her side we see her husband, Joseph. And then a young priest, John the Beloved, adopted into the family by the words of Christ from the Cross to His mother, “Woman, behold your son”. Our Lord’s last will and testament was focused on keeping the family, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Christ was born into a family – a family with true and real felt relationships. Christ experienced the relationship between Joseph and Mary as a husband and wife. As a child He grew up experiencing the sacred and natural bond one would expect between a mother and a child. And let’s not forget St. Joseph His legal father, His foster father. St. Joseph’s influence on the child helped Jesus to grow into an appreciation of the duties of manhood, the responsibilities needed to protect, provide and serve the family.

And let’s not forget the extended family of Joseph and Mary. Too often we only picture them as a threesome. This is hardly the experience of family life in the Middle East. Much like life family life in Hispanic or Mediterranean cultures, and indeed many cultures throughout the world, it is worth meditating that Christ had aunts and uncles, and cousins, first, second and third cousins who were all like brothers and sisters to him growing up. Let’s not forget his grandparents – Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents. And from Joseph’s genealogy as recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also had a grandfather called Jacob.

A Christian “writes” the account of the family life of Jesus by the environment of their very own family life and home.  You can have Christ himself a part of all your family joys, sorrows, tensions and celebrations. That is what family that prays together accomplishes, Christ as part of our family life.

But I understand too the great challenges the modern family faces every day. The fragmentation of time and the greater efforts demanded of parents because of long work hours, the intrusion of social media, the inability or reluctance to incorporate family prayer into daily life, the challenges of war, families separated by national borders or frontiers, children who have abandoned the faith, marriages and relationships that are challenged by fighting and frustrations  – this all takes it toll and looking for encouragement through difficult times often seems fought with one's reluctance to appear weak and vulnerable.

God could have simply appeared among us in the form of a strong and independent Jesus Christ. But He didn’t. Out of His love and concern for us, He was born weak and vulnerable into a human family challenged by circumstances beyond their control; He grew up within true and genuine relationships with all their joys and tensions.  

It was from Mary and Joseph, that God first experienced in His humanity, the tenderness of human love and the necessity of family life – so much so that even from the cross, He has asked us to take His mother into our safekeeping – Mary becomes our spiritual mother!

As children of God and brothers and sisters to each other, let us pray for the strengthening of our family bonds, for the healing of relationships and the renewal of our identity as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. May St. Joseph be always watchful over us and the angels and saints, the family of heaven, encourage and guide us. And may St. John always remind us that there is always room in our homes to welcome another mouth to feed and an extra guest at the table, on earth as it is in heaven.

In the Flesh

John 6: 41-51 The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time It’s not enough to simply say, “Jesus is the answer”. Christ is not a concept. C...