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".

Gardening Kingdom

  We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God ''.  We even pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of Our Lord...