Monthly Archives: July 2015

17th Sunday of the Year: B – The Bread of Life

 

Audio homily below:

The next five Sundays at Mass we’ll read from the 6th chapter of St. John’s gospel, which centers around the miracle of the loaves and the fish. All four gospels recall this miracle of Jesus; Mark and Matthew recall it twice. It’s one of Jesus’ most important miracles. It’s a miracle that will define him more than others miracles do.

John’s gospel expands on the miracle more than the other gospels. John’s gospel likes to point out signs. This miracle as an important
sign of Jesus’ mission in this world. He’s “the Bread of Life,” who answers the hunger that’s in our world.

John’s gospel notes the time and place the miracle occurs. It’s the time of Passover, on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee. When we hear it’s the Feast of Passover, we know that was when God led the Israelites out of Egypt. It was a mighty action of God. Now God will do a further act of saving his people through Jesus, his Son.

Jesus goes up a mountain. That’s an important detail too: Moses spoke to the people from a mountain on the desert journey. Now we’ll hear a greater voice from the mountain by the Sea of Galilee.

Look at the picture we have in John’s gospel: Jesus on the mountain sees a multitude of people coming toward him. In the other gospel accounts of this miracle, the disciples notice the crowds coming and nervously tells Jesus to send them away. In John’s gospel, though, Jesus sees the crowds approaching and, as if to remind his disciples of the inability of human resources to deal with them, he asks his disciple Philip, “Where could we buy enough food for them to eat?” Of course, there are no places to buy food and even if there were they wouldn’t have enough money. There are only 5 loaves and two fish.

Then, look how the miracle takes place in John’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t have the people line up, as if in a breadline for a piece of bread to tide them over on their way home. No, he settles them all on the green grass as if he were seating them at a banquet table. Then, taking the loaves and giving thanks, “he distributed them to those who were reclining , and also as much of the fish as they wanted.”

And it’s not only enough for them to eat; there’s a lot left over, which they collect in baskets. “More than they could eat.”

What does the miracle say to us? Let’s go back to the beginning. Jesus seeing the crowd is God seeing us all, the whole human family in fact. He sees the hunger of the crowd that can’t be met by human resources alone. The miracle isn’t an answer to a temporary crisis; it’s a sign that points to something deeper, something lasting. God will be with us on our human journey. God will always be with us; God will give us what we need, and even more than we expect.

You see the promise we have in this miracle. It’s not something done long ago and then over. It’s a sign that goes on and on.

This miracle says there’s a hunger in human beings that only God can satisfy. We may hardly be aware of it; just as the crowds who came to Jesus that day may not have been aware of it. But he was.

It’s not just a hunger for food either; it’s a hunger for wisdom and knowledge that only God can give. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”( Augustine) There’s something unsatisfied, something restless in us that can only be met by God. Our human hunger wont be satisfied by money, by success, by popularity, by things, by a healthy, perfect body. We can have all of these, but the question rises, “What then?” “What then?”

The miracle of the loaves and fish also points to the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, that beautiful sign so small and insignificant. Yet we sat it’s a banquet, God’s banquet. It’s the place where Jesus looks at us and see our hunger and offers food. He is our Bread of Life.

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The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim among the Shepherds

Ann and Joachim were the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and they lived in Jerusalem, tradition says, where Joachim, a descendant of David, had a role in the life of the temple. A wealthy man, he provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices.

Tradition says too that the couple had ties to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

They prospered in Jerusalem, but for twenty years one great trial clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after they vowed to dedicate their child to God, no child came.

At a time when children were thought treasures, they were thought poor. As descendants of David, they were blamed for not continuing the line from which the Messiah would come.

Stung by the criticism, Joachim began to retreat to the mountains to brood among the shepherds and the sheep. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too felt the sadness of their childlessness.

God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, Ann noticed some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree and she burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “The birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, but I have nothing. The land produces fruit, but I have no child to hold in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “”Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Go to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and meet your husband there.”

In the mountains, an angel in dazzling light also spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid. I have come to tell you the Lord has heard your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Anna, the mother of Samuel.

” Ann will bear you a daughter and you’ll call her Mary. Dedicate her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. I give you a sign: Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate, where your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

From the time she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple where she learned to read the scriptures, to pray and to take part in the Jewish feasts as they were celebrated through the year. She watched as her father brought lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in the presence of God.

When Mary approached the customary marriage age–15 or so–her parent began to arrange for her marriage according to the custom of the time. They sought advice from the high priest in the temple, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen to be her husband. By then, Ann and Joachim made Nazareth their home.

It was during this time that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up. They raised him in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who certainly cared for the Child.

No one knows just when Ann and Joachim died, – or where. But we must believe Jesus treasured them as they passed on to God.

This retelling of the story of Ann and Joachim is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James–an apostle related to Jesus, incidentally. The illustrations of Giotto are found in the Arena in Florence, Italy. Giotto’s 14th century illustrations  helped popularize the story of Ann and Joachim in Italy and Europe.

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16th Sunday B: Rest Awhile

To listen to today’s homily please select the audio file below:


“Come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and rest awhile.”
Jesus says that to his disciples whom he sent out two by two to proclaim his message and to cure those on whom they laid their hands. In our reading today from Mark’s Gospel, they’re back, enthused by the way people responded to what they said and the powerful cures they worked. They had shared in the power of Jesus; they’re elated– and also probably tired too.

Instead of sending them out right away, Jesus tells them “Come by yourselves and rest awhile.” If we ever think of Jesus as a relentless campaigner, someone driving his disciples hard, just remember these words from the gospel. He tells his disciples to rest, even though I’m sure after they experienced such success they want to go out again as soon as possible.

“Rest awhile.” We have to live a balanced life. We can’t be working all the time, even if it’s an important, holy work. Physically, our bodies can wear out, if don’t get enough sleep or eat the way we should, or get a break from what we’re doing. Today so many people treat their bodies like machines. They don’t pay enough attention to them. They drive themselves. Our bodies are delicate gifts we need to care for. They need rest.

But also we need to rest spiritually. Let me say something about that.

I was listening recently to a group of young adults in their mid thirties who were talking about their careers and their jobs and all of their personal and financial goals. They wanted everything, but that’s not going to happen in a world that works 24 hour a day, where the computers never rest, where businesses have become seven day affairs.

We are living in a driven society, and we certainly need to change some of its punishing structures. That’s what Pope Francis is reminding us in his recent encyclical, “Laudato. Si.” But besides changing some of the unjust structures in our society, we also need to recognize another power at work besides us.

There’s a poem by the French poet Charles Peguy called “Sleep.” It’s a beautiful little poem in which God tells someone like us to take it easy and get some rest. In the poem God frequently says, “Do you think I can’t handle things without you?” Isn’t that what we often believe?

We need to pay attention to the presence of God. God guiding us, sustaining us. We need to hope in God. Here’s part of the poem:

Human wisdom says “Don’t put off until tomorrow
What can be done the very same day.”
But I tell you that he who knows how to put off until tomorrow
Is the most agreeable to God
He who sleeps like a child
Is also he who sleeps like my darling Hope.
And I tell you: Put off until tomorrow
Those worries and those troubles which are gnawing at you
today
Put off until tomorrow those sobs that choke you
When you see today’s unhappiness.
Those sobs which rise up and strangle you.
Put off until tomorrow those tears which fill your eyes and
your head,
Flooding you, rolling down your cheeks, those tears which
stream down your cheeks.
Because between now and tomorrow, maybe I, God, will have
passed by your way.
Human wisdom says: Woe to the one who puts off what he
has to do until tomorrow.
And I say Blessed, blessed is the one who puts off what he
has to do until tomorrow.
Blessed is the one who puts off. That is to say, blessed is the one who
hopes. And who sleeps.

The poem’s not advocating procrastination or an unwillingness to face reality. No. It’s asking us to believe that God’s with us, acting, guiding and sustaining us. We don’t have to do it all ourselves.

Going back to our reading for today, the disciples are overwhelmed by the crowds that descend on them in a deserted place. “What are we going to do?” they say. Our gospel next Sunday tells us what God does. He feeds the multitudes.

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Novena to St. Ann

Throughout the Catholic world novenas honoring St. Ann begin today.

You won’t find the names of Ann and Joachim in the bible, but they’re mentioned in one of the apocryphal books, the Protoevangelium of James, written shortly after our New Testament writings.

Interest in Jesus’ family came about because of claims that he was “Son of David,” the Messiah  expected to come from David’s line. Against those who said Jesus was only a carpenter from Nazareth, the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke assert that  Jesus is the Messiah, descended from David.

The Protoevangelium of James also sees Joachim and Ann  in David’s line, and therefore Mary was too. It says they lived in Jerusalem. Did they accompany Mary to Nazareth after her marriage to Joseph? If so,  Jesus had grandparents taking care of him for a time.

If that’s true, it means Ann and Joachim gave Jesus something more besides proof of his bloodline.  Along with Mary and Joseph, they brought him up. As a young child he learned from them, the simplest and the most sublime things. Knowledge came to him, as it comes to us–through the senses, through mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

St. Ann is often pictured with her daughter Mary holding a small book in her hands. Written on the book in the statue here in this church are the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart,” a verse from the psalms.

Other statues of her have different words in the book. “I,2,3,4; A,B,C,D.” The basics of life. Or notice Giotto’s picture of the presentation of Mary in the temple. (above) Ann pushes her little daughter into the temple. Just like pushing kids to church today?

Parents and grandparents play a powerful role in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They teach kids their abc’s and the  sublime mysteries of faith. Maybe that’s why so many of them were here tonight in church.  They know that’s true.

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The Journey of the Mind

You would expect a theologian like St. Bonaventure to tell you to hit the books if you would want to go to God. After all, his treatise we read today on his feast is called “The Journey of the Mind to God.”

Instead he directs us to Christ and the Cross as our way to God.

” If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.”

A shelf of scripture commentaries and theology books wont bring us wisdom of themselves, St. Bonaventure says in his Breviloquium, otherwise only scholars would enter the kingdom of heaven.

“The stream of holy Scripture flows not from human research but from revelation by God. It springs from the Father of lights, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. From him, through his Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit flows into us; and through the Holy Spirit, giving, at will, different gifts to different people, comes the gift of faith, and through faith Jesus Christ has his dwelling in our hearts. This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ which is the ultimate basis of the solidity and wisdom of the whole of holy Scripture…

If we are to follow the direct path of Scripture and come straight to the final destination, then right from the beginning – when simple faith starts to draw us towards the light of the Father – our hearts should kneel down and ask the Father to give us, through his Son and the Holy Spirit, true knowledge of Jesus and of his love. Once we know him and love him like this, we shall be made firm in faith and deeply rooted in love, and we can know the breadth, length, depth and height of holy Scripture.”

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15th Sunday B: Go With What You Have

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:


We read last Sunday from the Gospel of Mark about the rejection of Jesus in his own hometown of Nazareth. After performing two great miracles, he went home and found himself dismissed and belittled by people he has known all his life, not only townspeople but members of his own family.
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” (Mark)

The rejection didn’t stop him, of course. Leaving Nazareth Jesus turns to the twelve he has chosen previously and sends them out to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. He gives them a commission; he empowers them. But listening to his words in the gospel ,we might wonder if he’s really giving them all they need.

“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. “

No food, no begging bag, no money? Not even a change of clothes? Doesn’t seem adequate, does it?

A Haitian priest, Father Joseph, is staying with us for a few months trying to learn English and last Friday he celebrated our community Mass for the first time in English. The gospel, appropriately, was from St. Matthew, where Jesus said to his apostles, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves… do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

We can be a tough audience, of course, but we clapped for him when he finished. No, we couldn’t understand him all the time, but his sincerity, his zeal, the faith of the man stood out. The Spirit was speaking through him.

I think that’s what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. He’s not talking to his apostles alone; he’s talking to us too. Don’t be afraid to embrace your faith, to live it as well as you can and to offer it to others as well as you can. The Spirit uses us. Even if you think your faith is small, don’t be afraid to use it, even if you don’t have all the answers or can’t put it in the words you would like, say it. Jesus gives us his Spirit; we need to depend on the Spirit, not on our own abilities.

These days the pope is visiting three countries in South America: Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. These are countries that are among the poorest in the world. They don’t have much clout; they’re not among the super-powers. I suppose some would say the pope should manage his time better. Instead of going to places like that why not go to Harvard or Princeton and talk to the intelligentsia. Why not go to Hollywood and talk to the celebrities, they’re the people with power. But pope seems to prefer going to the poor.

And what does he say to them? To a congress in Bolivia of representatives of labor and many marginalized groups he said:”The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites,” he said. “It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age. Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth.” Sounds like something Jesus would say.

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14th Sunday B: A Rejected Church

 

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

If you remember, last Sunday in Mark’s gospel there were two stories about Jesus. He raised the synagogue official’s daughter to life and he healed the poor woman who touched his cloak in the crowd. You would think miracles like that would enhance his reputation and convince people that he should be listened to.

Yet, after recounting those stories, Mark’s gospel continues today with a surprising rejection that took place when Jesus returned to his own hometown, Nazareth. News traveled fast even in those days, and the people there would have heard of the marvels he had done elsewhere in Galilee.

The gospel doesn’t say why Jesus returned to Nazareth on this occasion. Someone sick? A funeral maybe? We forget Jesus had obligatory ties like that to his own family. Whatever the reason he was there, when Jesus went into the synagogue to pray and to teach, he was rejected by the people of his own hometown. “His family is here, we know them.” “He’s a carpenter, the son of a carpenter.” “We know his mother Mary.” They dismiss him.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, for sure. Jesus was rejected at other times by other people, but you have to think his rejection in his own hometown was hard on him. Yet, he didn’t turn away from them, for sure.

If Jesus experienced rejection, I suppose churches have to experience rejection too, and recent statistics seem to indicate that’s happening in our country now. Last month the Pew Research Center published a report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape, which noted a sharp decline in church membership, particular in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. About 28% of Americans, mainly among the young, say they are “ religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular.’ A good number of that 28% were likely members of our churches once.

A recent survey by the Gallup Poll has a similar message. It’s a study of how Americans view moral issues, and notes a shift to the left on key moral issues over the last 12 years. What moral issues? A majority of Americans now believe that sex between an unmarried man and woman is ok; divorce is ok, doctor assisted suicide is ok, gay or lesbian relations are ok, having a baby outside marriage is ok.

The authors of the study say that “the public is now more accepting of sexual relations outside of marriage in general than at any point in the history of tracking these measures, including a 15-point increase in the acceptability of sex between an unmarried man and woman…acceptance of divorce and human embryo research is up 12 points.

Are differences over moral issues like these responsible for some people leaving our churches? I’m sure they are. What should our church do about it? Turn its back on those who disagree with its moral teaching? I like what Cardinal Wuerl of Washington wrote after the recent supreme court decision on marriage equality:

“Are people who share our faith but struggle with the Church’s understanding about marriage still welcome at Church? Because Jesus came to save all people, all are invited to be a part of God’s family – his Church. Faithful to her Lord and Founder, the Church welcomes everyone. It is the home for all who seek to follow Jesus as his disciple. This welcome is extended to everyone: married couples with children, unwed mothers and fathers, the single unmarried, couples who struggle with infertility, men and women with same-sex attraction, individuals facing gender issues, those whose marriages have broken down and suffered the trauma of divorce, people with special needs, immigrants, children born and unborn, the young, seniors, and the terminally ill, sinners and saints alike. If the Church were to welcome only those without sin, it would be empty. Catholic teaching exhorts every believer to treat all people with respect, compassion, sensitivity, and love. All are called to walk with Jesus and so all who try to do so have a place in the Church.”

The cardinal offers a number of suggestions for meeting this situation, but I like one particularly. “All Christians have the responsibility to learn and to grow in their faith in order to share it with others. We should be able to explain what we believe and why we hold it. This means taking up the challenge to be better informed on Church teaching and why such belief is part of the vision rooted in Gospel values. This is all the more important when we find the teaching difficult.”

Our church is over two thousand years old. It has a lot of experience in human nature and in the wisdom that comes from Jesus Christ. Our duty is to engage those who disagree with us, not to turn them away. To meet them respectfully, sensitively and with love. That’s the way Jesus himself would do it.

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