Jul 30, 2016

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Whoever he was, he was afraid. His attention was focused, not on the Lord, but on someone else, something else. In fact, by attempting to bring God into this dispute concerning an inheritance, he reveals how fear is often a distraction to faith and how charity and love can be poisoned by greed and selfishness.

In this incident we read in the Gospel, what could the man’s brother give him as an inheritance that was more important than what Christ could give? Who can provide an inheritance that lasts for eternity? St. Ambrose says, “You must not consider what you seek. More important is who you are asking”. The voice from the crowd did not recognize Christ as Lord, but only as teacher. He was soon taught a lesson!

In doing so, Christ provides us with a caution by offering us an example of greed and to compare our lives against the image he paints of the rich man who feels the need to build for himself huge storage units for all his things. One has only of think of the great pyramids and treasures once stored within those great ancient structures. Tomb raiders, thieves and archeologists have carried away all their treasures. And for many of the pharaohs themselves, we find their bodies now on display behind glass – objects of curiosity for school children and tourists!

If we fail to learn the discipline of detachment and resist poverty of spirit as called for by Christ, then the kingdom of heaven cannot be ours. If the concerns that preoccupy us do not raise our minds to Christ in order to seek the face of God, then we will ultimately and inevitability feel sadness and inadequacy when we look out at the things of this world comparing ourselves with it. But “Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa) (Cf. Comp.CCC 531-533)

The mistake made by the rich man spoken of by Christ in the Gospel was not simply having wealth. Rather, he did not understand what his wealth was given to him for. Instead of his plans to hoard it and ultimately do nothing with it, had he been resolved to share his blessings with those who genuinely needed a helping hand then he would not have been afraid to die, not afraid of letting go of everything, even his own life in order to embrace heaven. “Those who know that they are mortal should not come to an unprepared end” (St. Leo the Great)

The Scriptures this Sunday help us to appreciate that Christ comes to help us to see beyond the “goods” of this world and to help us purify our earthly attachments that would otherwise weigh us down. It is for this reason Christ has given us the Holy Eucharist that points us in the direction of the heavens.

When the priest says: “Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God our almighty Father”, the implication is that there are in fact two sacrifices intertwined, united together. The first is that of Christ the eternal priest, who as divine, has everything – but choose to let go of all of it - he emptied out everything, surrendered every bit of his life, to be stripped naked, to be tortured to death. This he willingly choose in order to win our eternal freedom. But we can only inherit this if, likewise, we too make our own sacrifice personal and let go of what we hold onto in our own efforts to keep ourselves alive. We should not be afraid of detachment, dying to this world, to the things of this world, dying even to ourselves.

To put this into context in the Eucharist, allow me to dare put words into the mouth of Christ. In the Mass Christ says, "It's not your time I want to free, it's not your talents, I don't want your treasures. I want you. I want to free you. I have not come to inconvenience your life, nor to become a burden, nor to make you feel guilty that you have so many things. I have come instead to empty you of your whole life. But do not be afraid. I will give you a new life - I give you my life, my life, the life of God, shall become yours", says the Lord. (cf. CCC 549)

So, let us now prepare for an exchange of gifts - the bread and wine of this world in exchange for the heavenly body and blood of Christ. Strictly speaking, it is not a fair exchange. Christ made the greater sacrifice. Accepting this heavenly inheritance, the gift of the everlasting body and blood of Christ in exchange for our own, may the gift of the Holy Eucharist always keep us humble, continually grateful and forever generous.

Jul 25, 2016

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Watching him pray, his disciples could see that Our Blessed Lord was intimately in touch with heaven. In a way it was “written all over his face”, but this was more noticeable when the Lord would go to "certain places" to be alone in prayer. 

For example, this is what you do when you come in early and sit in the church, when you look around and gaze at the sacred images wondering how they might reflect a little glimpse of heaven in our direction. Prayer is when we light a candle, and our focus becomes, not inward, put a reaching out through the darkness of this world to the beyond.  Prayer is following the trail of incense as it drifts upward to heaven. It is the words of scripture, which are presented in the selected passages from the bible, or have been weaved together into conversations with God, which we have come to know by heart, or try to make our own.  Prayer is the raising of the heart and soul, reaching out to heaven.

The first place for prayer is actually not here in the church building. It’s at home in your own house.  We come to the church to give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received during this past week, and we offer our prayers and sacrifices to him God for our own good and the good of all his holy Church as we begin another week.

But, every day, our homes are sacred places.  It is there we are to find a place to pray every day. But increasingly our homes can become noisy places, cluttered places, and busy places.  This is why it is always good that there be a sacred space in your home, a place you can withdraw to, to bring the family around, to pray especially the familiar sacred words that have been passed down to us from generation to generation, and where our minds can focus on the sights and sounds of heaven. And even to ask,  “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Christ does teach us how to pray. In fact, he gives us a formula, a template, words to say. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” - Listen to them as if the Lord himself where teaching you these words, asking you to ponder on the deep meaning that each verse has for all of us and every time we bring these divine words to our mind and lips, to allow them to sink deeper and deeper into our soul.

As we ask Christ to teach us to pray, consider who taught him! As he grew up, Mary would have helped him to say his first words, how to read the scriptures, how to pray according to the tradition of the Chosen People.  In her teenage years her own words to the angel, “Be it done unto me, according to thy will”, seem to echo through the verse of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. And when Christ was alone in the garden of Gethsemane, hours, I’m sure he though of his mother and her words to the angel message thirty years ago he himself prayed to his Father, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Prayer is not a nicety of Christian life; it is allowing Christ to pray through us, so that his words become our own.  In this Holy Mass, let our prayer be united with Calvary in the greatest prayer that ever reached heaven.   

Jul 15, 2016

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The image that comes to mind after reading the Gospel which speaks of the two sisters Martha and Mary is that of one who is concerned with the needs of guests and the other who sits at the feet of the Lord listening to his voice. When the Lord told Martha that she was anxious about too many things and her sister Mary had chosen the better part by listening, the Gospel does not share with us how she reacted. If we presumed by the tone of Martha’s complaint to the Lord that there was tension between the two sisters over the demands of catering for visitors we would miss the point.

Instead, to offer us a greater insight into a bigger picture to contemplate, the Church has given us an appetizer, so to speak, in the form of the First Reading – the visitation of the three mysterious guests to the tent of Abraham (Gn. 18:1-10a). On the surface one can easily recognize the demands of hospitality and generosity evident as a theme to this Old Testament event. This may also provide us with a reflection on the corporal works of mercy demonstrated by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. 

But for the Christian when we look back to these events through the lens of faith, we can see in Abraham’s remarkable hospitality and Sarah’s listening attentively behind the scenes, a “dress rehearsal” for the Annunciation when the Virgin Mary was told by the angel she would bear a son whose name would be Jesus. (CCC 489, CCC 2571, Comp. CCC 536)

When the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, God was “enfleshed” (i.e. incarnated) in humanity in every way except sin. God experienced human hunger and thirst. We saw this spelt out clearly when Christ was in the desert fasting. We are told that he was hungry. Now, we find him being fed by the love and generosity of family and friends. 

Imitating her, Martha provides a valuable service to God. It is by her sacrifice and acts of charity that she nourishes the Lord’s body, providing him with the necessary sustenance so that he might continue his journey. This gives Christ the strength of mind and body in order to accomplish his mission. He will need this strength in order to carry the cross. But when Martha complains that she finds herself alone in her work, Christ reminds her, as he does us, in more words than one, that a time will come when there will be no need to feed the physical body – a time will come when it will be transformed feed by the very presence of God. 

Remember Christ’s words while he was being tempted by Satan in the desert, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. However, Mary the sister of Martha also provided us with a glimpse of hunger, not of a body for food, but of a soul hungry for God. In the words of St. Augustine, Martha’s sister “was eating the one she was listening to…because he was the one who said ‘I am the Bread come down from heaven’. This is the bread which nourishes and never diminishes”.

After the consecration, what we perceive with our natural eyes as bread and wine, the heavenly angels from their perspective see the glorious body of the living Christ. It is for this reason that this Blessed Sacrament is called the “Bread of Angels”. Today’s Gospel allows us to imitate Martha’s generosity in preparing the table and the offerings needed to celebrate this holy banquet and accomplish works of charity. Martha’s sister, Mary, will then show us how our attention must be drawn, not to our own kindness or anything that we can do or accomplish, but to Christ’s who, out of his eternal sacrifice and generosity, gives us himself as the true Bread that has come down from Heaven. And there is enough food for everyone to feast on!

Jul 9, 2016

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Who actually is the Good Samaritan?

The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. Its language, images and the story itself can appeal to so many people. It can cut across cultures and even religions, so powerful the moral of the story is. Often it is cited as an example of accepting the stranger, loving our enemies and caring for those society leaves behind. In an obvious way, its meaning can be easily appreciated by all.

Yet, for the Christian, this parable has a deeper level. It must also move us towards developing within our Christian character particular virtues. What we traditionally call the seven corporal works of mercy, are examples of “a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes the disciples of Jesus.” (The seven corporal works of mercy: 1. Feed the hungry. 2. Give drink to the thirsty. 3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless. 5. Visit the sick. 6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead.)

So often, we have tried to be the Good Samaritan and have tended to see Christ in the victim, reminded by his words, "Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me".

However, so that our doing good does not distract us from our own need for healing, we should never be afraid to also see ourselves in the one who is lying in the middle of the road. Think of it like this.

The man on the journey is you and me. We have left Jerusalem. In other words, we are far from where God lives.

In this way of retelling the parable (allow me to use the second person to better illustrate the reflection), the road takes you to Jericho, a symbolic place of being far from heaven.

On this lonely road, hostile forces easily prey upon and overpower you, robbing you of your dignity and your treasure. You might as well be dead.

The Jewish priest and Levite might represent religious ritual and legalism. In itself, it has no power to bring us to our feet.

The Good Samaritan is Christ himself who leaves the heavenly Jerusalem and travels the road searching us out.

We are far from home. Christ sees our wounds, our sins.

He is not repulsed by them, regardless of how deep the wound is in our soul.

Instead, he reaches out and touches them, bandages them with the sacraments of healing, which are confession and the anointing of the sick.

Oil poured upon wounds can comfort, as Christ’s presence ultimately does. But Christ, the Good Samaritan, also pours wine over the wounds. That can hurt and even sting for a while as does Christ’s words when spoken in judgment even to a Christian, so as to draw out into the open a poisonous infection which if left untreated can kill even the soul itself.

Christ then reaches down to lift you up, to carry you to a safe place. The refuge of the inn, we should look upon as the Church and the innkeeper is a shepherd of the soul. In other words, within the security of Christ’s Church the wounded can be brought to full health, always under the watchful eye of the a pastor who has received treasures from Christ (the two silver coins) and the responsibility to spend it towards salvation. (cf. John 21:15, “Christ’s words to Peter, “Feed my lambs”)

The Samaritan tells the innkeeper that he will return. Christ has told us that he too will return and we must be ready to give a full account of the gifts he has given us.

Too often we do not realize that we are on a dangerous road that can take us further and further away from God.

Weakened in body and wounded in soul by sins along the way, it is sometimes good fortune to collapse halfway on the journey rather than arriving at some point of no return.

Christ’s Church is like the Good Samaritan’s inn. It is a unique place where God’s mercy, through the sacrament of reconciliation, is celebrated and full recovery is sought.

Within its walls, the innkeeper will also provide, when the traveler is strong enough, a meal – this is, of course, the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s resurrected Body and Blood, the divine remedy for the tired body and wounded soul, the strength we need to continue the journey - this time not down hill picking up speed, but on to the road that leads us up the hill towards the heavenly city. For all of us, it demands vigilance, a helping hand, and a sure and steady companion and guide along the way.

Jul 3, 2016

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 10: 1-12

The Gospel today reflects the public dimension of discipleship within the mission of the Church. In the same way as Christ appointed twelve apostles for a particular mission, we also see the Lord in the Gospel today, assigning particular public duties and responsibilities to a certain seventy two “others”.  What we see reflected in the New Testament Scriptures, is the Church becoming organized, visible and structured, reflecting a recognizable order, not for the sake of efficiency like a global corporation, but "in order" to bring to humanity to the Good News of Jesus Christ. And we accomplish this, not as independent practitioners or specialist experts or professionals. Rather, as brothers and sisters of a unique family bond together by a common blood - that of Christ's which must always flow through our veins. (It is no accident that July is dedicated to Christ's Precious Blood).

Granted, family members do not always get on with each other, and at times our relationships can sometimes be strained, even distant, for various reasons, not excluding our our own sins and faults. That is why it is often necessary to step back and appreciate the grace that is always present within the family we call the Church.

Because "blood is thicker than water", the Church, from God’s perspective is a “divine spiritual reality which can only be seen with the eyes of faith.” (Comp.CCC 151) It is with these eyes of faith that allow the sacraments of the Church to be seen clearly as expressions of Christ’s invisible life, which despite our own shortcomings, is present in and fuel the mission our Lord entrusted to the Church.

Therefore as family members of the Church, Christ has given each one of us a unique role and responsibility in and for the salvation of the world. Today’s Gospel reminds us that a disciple cannot be camouflaged, nor a secret agent! We are called by Christ to be light of the world and salt of the earth! Yet the harvest is always indeed rich and the laborers are always few. (Comp. CCC 172-173)

This is not academic theological talk! When you love someone, when you find meaning in your life because of a family you have bonded to, you are never silent in good times, as well as bad times.  Christ never intended his Good News to be a cryptic code to be unlocked by a team of trained specialists, nor his Good News confined to an hour on Sunday and kept separate from the world, discreetly swept under the carpet or avoided in polite conversation.  Christ's Good News, like salt in right measure - it seasons and flavors our everyday conversations, our attitudes and our daily work.

For a number of years, a group of 12 parishioners (our brothers and sisters) have been systematically visiting the local homes and neighborhoods within our parish. They have knocked on the doors of over 9,000 homes asking if there are any baptized Catholics in the household. Maybe not surprisingly, there are hundreds of non-practicing Catholics in our neighborhoods. For the majority, the visit we made to them was the first invitation they ever received to “come home” – the assurance that they are still part of the family. Too often, our own failure has been our silence.

We all organize our lives, socially and privately, around that which we know to be our ultimate priorities in life. For the Christian, our own ultimate priority is to live and lead our lives in a way that will make visible the Kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven". Let us never be afraid to invite into our home, in whatever shape its takes, our distant family members, especially those who are hungry and thirst for Christ's Good News. After all, he suffered and died on the cross, not just for me and my salvation and but for every single person of the world - the whole family of humanity. (cf. Comp. CCC 177).  As we responded to the todays Psalm "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!" (Psalm 66)

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