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. 

Stain Removal

How do you keep your whites white? This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and...