Sep 15, 2021

Take Up Your Cross

Today’s Gospel (according to Mark) was written at a time when early Roman Christians were being arrested and tortured. Many of them suffered horrifying deaths, many of them were brutally crucified or thrown into cages to be ripped apart by lions and wild beasts.  

Let’s not forget, if you could, the cruelties inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and those sadistic videos of hostages in orange jumpsuits being publicly executed for the whole world to see. With something like this going on in the background, the early Christians would listen to the same words of Christ we hear today,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. "

Think about it. At the time of Christ, the cross was a reminder of what happened when you antagonized the authorities.  You were publicly crucified to death. The image of a cross was the reminder of a death sentence. Who goes into the battlefield handing the enemy the means to crucify them? Does it not seem logical to instead go to the front lines waving swords and plowing down anyone who stood in our way?

But how does the Enemy, in fact, defeat us? The enemy wants us to separate Christ from his Cross. It's the old trick of divide and conquer. It's when the devil pits one against the other. For example -   

1.  We place value on freedom, respect, on being tolerant, looking after the stranger, looking out for the poor. And this is commendable.

2.  We also place value on hard work, on making sacrifices, on long hours, on physical endurance, fighting against the odds, investing in our future, and often times at a great personal cost. These are noble qualities indeed.

We are at our best when these two values meet each other, cooperate together, value each other, rather than being pitted against each other. A household divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

How does this translate into our Christian discipleship within the Church? We cannot be part of the Church, a disciple of Christ without carrying the cross. Christ will never allow himself to be separated or detached from it. Because the Church is Christ’s Body, as a Church we have to embrace the cross, the sins of the world, our own sins, the sins of the members of the Church.

But when the Enemy gets into our mind, we are often tempted to purify Christ and his Church from the very cross he is attached to.

When we are tempted to embrace Christ without his Cross, we can keep him all nice and beautiful, not a hair out of place - no pain, no suffering, no discipline, no sacrifice. He becomes a gentle teacher. The substitute teacher! A Christ without his cross, a Christian without embracing their own Cross, is weak, soft and nonessential. The Church without a cross becomes a simple social science project.  

When we are tempted to embrace the Cross without Christ, our pride will tell us we have all the strength we need to carry it ourselves. Why do we need Christ or God's grace, when we can be self-made superheroes who can lift the cross up high and threaten to drop it on the heads of our enemies. A cross without Christ is a logo, a brand mark to be designed, marketed and mass produced.

In the words of a third-century North African saint, St. Cyprian of Carthage, before he was beheaded on the shores of the Mediterranean by a politically driven lynch mob, some of them former disciples, he asked “how can anyone think themselves a Christian when they are afraid or ashamed to live as a Christian? How can a Christian hope to be with Christ in heaven someday, when they are embarrassed or afraid to belong to Christ and his Church on earth this very day?”

Let us ask our Blessed Mother for a share in her Good Friday strength. It allowed her not only to courageously stand beside the cross of her Son. At the same time, she fully opened her immaculate heart to the grace of God's sacrificial love for all of humanity. May we, with God's grace, do likewise.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sep 6, 2021

“O my word!”

Words are very important to God. His word is creative - “Let there be Light”. In a way, the darkness heard God’s Word. And there was Light!

Throughout the Old Testament accounts of the interaction of God and his people, God speaks. The People listen. They respond to his words. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”.  
Hearing God’s word is very important.  But, too often our own words get in the way. Text messages, emails, tweets, blogs, social media, comments, responses, reactions, quotes, and even sermons. The printed and typed word or text we are so used to today doesn't come so much from the breath. They come more from the tapping or the thumping of a keyboard. Our words are easily copied, pasted, edited, translated, printed, posted, rehashed and even deleted.
Our own words can also come back to haunt us. Nearly 100 years ago, a Boston politician (Martin Lomasney) warned his young interns, “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”!  
But then, how do we interpret silence, innuendo, or an off the cuff remark? Case in point: Having a bad day, after feeling betrayed by his one-time close advisor, returning to his private quarters King Henry II of England lamented to himself out loud, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Some royal bodyguards overheard the remark, sought out the archbishop and brutally murdered him at the altar of his own cathedral! Learning what happened, the King was horrified and later begged God for forgiveness.
So, how do you interpret the words you hear? How do you use your words and the power of speech? Maybe this would have been an important question to ask the deaf man who had a speech impediment before he was brought to Christ who opened his ears to hear and loosened his tongue to speak? Maybe, years later his mouth might have got him into trouble! Maybe, when he would later hear Christ preaching, he could he have misinterpreted the Lord’s words he heard or thought he heard?

Often we will hear it say, “That’s my word against your word”.  But Christ himself will not enter into a family, partisan or tribal spat. He does not take my side nor yours. Instead, he offers himself as the ultimate Word, the final Word, the everlasting Word.

Unlike the way we use and hear words, God communicates to us in a new language that goes beyond the written or spoken words that come from his mouth. He offers to those on his side, a new way of speaking and hearing.

As if to illustrate this point, there are two dimensions going on in what we have read or listened to in the gospel text.  In the three dimensional world, the Lord physically sticks his finger into the deaf man’s ears, and then the Lord wipes the deaf man’s mouth with his own spittle. Our Lord then releases and big roar and, in his native language of Aramaic shouts out “Be opened!”

Now, it’s all very dramatic. Do you not think that Christ could have healed the man without going through all this drama? Yes, of course.  But sometimes we need God to be dramatic. We need poetry. We need art. We need a song. We need ritual.

God communicates to us through our senses, through touch, through smell, through color, through stuff.  Is this not what we call in church language, liturgy - liturgical language? In the most sacred context of the Mass, we use outward signs, a language that speaks to our senses in order to communicate the reality of invisible grace. The words we hear and speak within this sacred space, speaks to our soul. And from our soul, the Word of God is translated through every fiber of our body into good works of love and mercy.

Unfortunately, I could be the most polished speaker and the greatest listener, but after reflecting on the actions of Christ in the gospel, if I do not ask God to touch my ears - the ears of my soul… if I do not ask God to wipe my mouth with his own spit so that his words will come out from the depth of my soul, and not simply mine  - if I do not learn how to hear and speak this new sacred language, then indeed I am but superficial. I remain deaf to him and my words are simply secular.

There are not many words recorded by Our Blessed Mother in the Scriptures. The most words that have come down to us from her are not from a speech but from a song (Luke 1:46-55). If we were present when she sang her song in her own native language, at first, we probably would not have understood the words from her mouth. But at a deeper level, if we were listening from the depths of our soul, we would hear her soul singing of the glory of God and her spirit rejoicing with words of praise.  

May we learn again how to hear God’s Word resonating from deep within our soul and respond in ways that speak louder than any word, by good deeds that give God glory.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aug 28, 2021

Under the Armor

The Gospel that is proclaimed today (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) has us reflect on the purity of our hearts and how we allow, what has been embedded deep within us, to come to the surface. And when it does, we are to notice how it can influence our thought patterns, the choice of words we speak, and the behavior each one of us often feels compelled to engage in.

In this portion of the Gospel, the Evangelist St. Mark, gives a racial stereotype for his Gentile listeners of how his own fellow Jews were often perceived by others at that time. In fact, how he describes them and their customs, comes across as “more Jewish than the Jews themselves.”

Born and bred in Ireland and immigrating to the U.S. when I was in my 20's, how the average American perceived the Irish surprised me. I don’t wear green, nor do I have red hair or freckles. I was not brought up on a diet of corn beef and cabbage, drink alcohol in excess or go around greeting people with “The top of the morning to you!”  

You may laugh, but maybe underneath, in my heart of hearts, I may be deeply resentful by the racial profiling. I may be secretly angry at being stereotyped. But then, you would never know. After all, I’m an Irishman! We don’t show or emotions readily. Instead, we instead use poetry, stories, and wit to express ourselves. 

But this, in a way, demonstrates how difficult it often is to trace the origin of external actions and behaviors that we often get ourselves caught up in. It takes honesty and courage to track our thoughts and actions back to their source, to the secret chambers of the heart and soul.  

It is often easier to make judgments about externals - about spoken words, messages or public statements - about how someone dresses or appears in public, about how someone prays or offers Mass or the type of car they drive or work they do.  

Don’t get me wrong - words and actions are incredibly important - they carry force and influence the world around us for good or for bad.  But so do the secrets of our hearts. They also carry equal weight and significance. Our words and actions can be out of place, wrong, inappropriate, displeasing to God. Our heart and soul can be at times in a dark place, especially when it has been affected by pride, resentment, lust or anger.  

We can dress up or paper over the cracks that sometimes appear on the surface of a building such as our house or church. We can do likewise with our relationships or even our bodies.  But what if by constantly covering up, we are then distracted from a personal weakness or vulnerability, an unresolved hurt or a painful memory, something that has not been completely healed and then, given an excuse, it is easily triggered and up it comes? Then the waters of that deep well out of which flows all our motivations quickly become impure.

That is what Christ speaks of in the Gospel we have just heard. They are his words of caution to me and to you. And he speaks to us, not as Americans, Irish, Europeans, Asians, African or Latinos. But as a brother and as a savior. We are His family and His Church. It belongs to Him and so do we.  As St. James, from our Lord’s own family circle reminded us in Second Reading, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you, and is able to save your soul”. S.O.S.

Be careful. The evil we see out there and might want to subdue, might, in fact, be hiding also within our own heart. And that’s a tender place, easily bruised. So during these days, we should find the courage, space and the time to make a “thorough examination of conscience” - no window dressing, no hiding behind a shield, and that includes laptops, smartphones and plates and dishes that can be easily broken to pieces. The Good News is that Christ, who rose from the dead, can put all the broken pieces together. But He never puts back the broken pieces the same way we want them. Suffering and death to the old self must come first. Then all things will be new and a fresh start will begin. 

 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Not from Twitter

Christ spoke words. He did not send Twitter messages. He Himself is the undeletable Word. We note from the Sunday Gospel (John 6:60-69), that many of Jesus’ followers and 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' words symbolically, figuratively, they would not have left Him in such great numbers, numbers so great that Jesus reacted strongly, turning to Peter and the apostles asking them if they too wanted to stop following Him.

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, the embodiment of God - these are divine 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 terms. 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, celebrities or even bloggers! 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.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aug 16, 2021

As it was in the beginning

The Assumption of the Virgin Mother

We have reached the climax of the summer. After the spring rains, a few thunderstorms, and despite the drought, our roses are in full bloom. They have reached their fullness.  In a manner of speaking, creation has reached its final and most beautiful expression. This is why a summer vacation is perfect right now! We are given a glimpse, through the lens of our Christian faith, of heaven on earth - a hint of paradise!  If only we could press the pause button!

Is this not the story and cycle of our own lives too.  After the enjoyment of summer, vacation time and the holidays, there is a certain dread that soon it will wind down and back to work, back to school, back into the daily grind. And then, we have to plough through the rest of the year, sacrificing our time and efforts, enduring darker mornings and longer nights, so that we can reach summertime again, once more into the future. If only we could press the pause button!

As important as pictures and photos as reminders of the last days of summer are, God has given us a lasting image of His creation that will never fade.  It is a woman, clothed in the sun. She is not called Mother Earth, nor Mother Nature. She has a name - Mother Mary. Of all of God's creation, she is the most perfect rose in God’s garden. A rose that is tender, beautiful, exact. Her stem is strong, her roots are deep, her leaves are crisp, her blossom is perfect, her fragrance is wonderful. This mystical rose radiates with the perfect grace of God. Mary is the Golden Rose that will never wilt, collapse, decay or experience the death of winter, for her immaculate body is full of grace.

This is why, on behalf of all humanity, she alone could respond perfectly to the gift of salvation offered by her eternal Son and Savior of the world. Her “yes” to the salvation of “all creation” resonated perfectly through every fiber of her body – that body perfectly in harmony with her soul is captured in the Gospel we have heard today. In her “Magnificat”, her song, Mary’s soul sings in joy through her body which is full of the breath of God.

We look to her to show us how to "get it together", and how to "keep it together", body and soul.  When we give our bodies too much attention, we risk becoming empty castles that look strong and secure on the outside, but without an inner life.  

When we give our minds too much stimulation, we easily become addicted to fantasies, dreams and make-believe.  

When we give our emotions and appetites too much attention, we easily become needy, frustrated, never content. Even when we even give our souls too much attention, we can easily become detached from the goodness and the gifts that God gives us in the ordinary events of everyday life.  

Our bodies and our souls were never meant to be separated, kept secret from each other. When our body and actions are separated from our soul and prayers, or vice versa - then we will surely die, not once, but many times. This is why Mary could never experience death as we do. Her body and soul were always in harmony. 

So let us pray that our physical movements, our public expressions, our secret thoughts, our choices and all our actions will become, with God’s grace, more and more in harmony with Mary's example of Christian discipleship so that the final resting place for our bodies will not be the grave, but in a new Heaven and new earth promised by God. 

May this Holy Mass, where we are fed with the Eternal Body and Blood of Christ shape us more and more, body and soul, into the image and likeness of God’s heaven on earth, so to live with Him forever in a garden of paradise which will be real and lasting.  And that is our prayer. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, a world without end. Amen.

Aug 11, 2021

The Body of Evidence

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, Hismother, 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 becomes more defined, His heart beats faster, the muscles become stronger - he is has all the strength and energy of a young man used to physical labor. 

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 raise the dead to life.

6. His saliva 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 mountaintop bursting forth in spectacular heavenly light. 

15. On the cross this miraculous human body of a divine person was ripped apart on calvary. 

16. And 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 digitized 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 if we dare approach this altar to receive Holy Communion, our own body and soul, weak and vulnerable as it is, must be first prepared, not on own own terms, but through the physical training of a good moral life, the spiritual training of a discipline of regular prayer and mind that is free from the distractions of the devil. We are saved, not by emojis, hashtags, symbols or signs - not even by bread and wine - but by the very flesh of Jesus Christ, His body and blood God makes present through the Sacrament of the Holy Mass. 

Jul 31, 2021

Tasting Heaven

“You should put away the old self of your former way of life…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.” (Cf. Sunday’s second reading: Ephesians 4:17, 20–24). 

That’s what God's Word is demanding of us today. It’s difficult to put away our old selves. Our minds hold so many memories of the past - past loves, past hurts, past joys and past sufferings. When we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, or when we feel threatened or afraid, or cannot see a clear path ahead, consider the first lines from the First Reading we heard: 

“The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our [BBQs] and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”

It often takes a rude awakening for us to realise, if we are truthful, that we have often 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!). 

Last week I reflected on the virtue of hope. But it also takes another virtue, that of humility, to approach Christ with trust, admitting in truth that we have often 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 cannot 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, and you get an instant emotional response. 

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 oftentimes the “wetting of our appetites” for the enduring food of heaven.

Second. Pleasure is not a bad word. In its 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 was 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 ice cream?

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 his own neediness. 

When, with the help of God and with all our strength, we are able to push aside all the false pleasures, fast food solutions and distractions, then our soul’s desire will be free to seek the invisible Christ, and the 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.

Take Up Your Cross

Click here for First Option  Diocesan Homily and Resources on the Eucharist Today’s Gospel (according to Mark) was written at a time when ea...