Monday, July 30, 2012

8/5/2012 - 18th Sunday – John 6:24-35 – Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24

         Last week's Gospel told us about Jesus feeding the hungry crowds through the miracle of multiplying the loaves & the fish.  That story concluded with the crowd seeing Jesus as a prophet after they had eaten their fill.  Today, we see a continuation of the unfolding drama in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel as the crowd yet again is filled with questions & doubts.  In the Gospel readings these past few weeks, we’ve seen the crowds following Jesus around wherever he goes. The crowds are clearly searching for something.  But, the crowds don’t quite understand what Jesus is all about.  Is Jesus going to provide for their earthly needs, symbolized by the lunch of bread and fish that he provided them?  Or, perhaps there is more beneath the surface that the crowds are just not yet seeing. The crowds still clamor for more signs – they want to see and believe.  For us today as modern-day followers of Jesus, what does it mean to truly believe into him?  Notice that I use the phrase “believing into Jesus,” not “believing in Jesus.”  What affect could today's Gospel have on the way we seek our daily bread from Christ, the way we are challenged to grow in our faith?
         To believe, to have faith: this is at the foundation of what it means for us to journey as Catholics.  It's common in modern American for us to believe or have faith in someone or something on the basis of authority.  In our culture, faith & belief often have a strong intellectual character; they are usually an act of the mind.  However, in the ancient Mediterranean world, faith and belief were that connection that bound people together, coming more from a sentiment of heart instead of an act of the mind. 
         When the crowds ask what they can do to accomplish the works of God, Jesus tells them that the work of God is for them to believe in the one whom God sent, to believe in or to believe INTO Jesus.  Believing into Jesus goes beyond an intellectual assent; it involves the loyalty, the commitment, and the solidarity of our very being that forms our faith in Jesus.  Jesus fed the crowd last week as he was moved with compassion for their plight – the multiplication of the loaves and the fish was an important act of kindness to peasants of ancient Israel, as most of them lived a day-to-day existence in getting the food they needed to survive.  Yet, believing in Jesus moves us way beyond our earthly needs & concerns.  Jesus moves the crowd from their thoughts of earthly food filling their stomachs to the food that the Son of Man will give them that endures for eternal life.  Even though the crowd in today's Gospel seems like it is making strides in understanding Jesus and his message, they still want another sign. Wasn't it enough that he just performed this miracle for them?  Yet, on one level, we can understand the need for signs in the tradition of the prophets of ancient Israel, as the true prophets always proved themselves to the people through signs that came directly from God. 
         How often do we cry out to the Lord wanting some sort of sign, wanting clarity, wanting something to reinforce our faith?  Look at the Israelites who had just been delivered from bondage in our reading from Exodus, how they were miraculously brought to safety through the sea.  They cried out to God in a voice louder than the rumbling in their stomachs, not having faith that God would provide them food on their journey.  They were afraid to trust God – they were afraid to trust their faith.  In a moment of doubt, they thought it would be better to go back to Egypt, to walk away from God.  They would even go back to the horrors of their captivity in slavery, because at least their basic needs of food and housing were met. Even when manna was sent down from heaven, they did not understand that it was a gift from God to meet their needs.
         The Israelites had manna in the desert to satisfy their hunger; likewise, we have the true bread from heaven in our Lord Jesus Christ.  What is it that this bread from heaven will do to us in our daily journey of faith?   How is it different from the manna that fed the hungry Israelites in the desert?  Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that we are “to put away our old selves, to leave behind our former way of thinking and living”  We are to be renewed in the spirit, in the way in which we live, in the way we think in our minds.  We are to be open to the grace of holiness that God gives to us.  That is how this bread from heaven will feed us, renew us, re-energize us. 
         Letting the significance of the bread of heaven touch our souls can be a very wondrous event in our lives.  One of the great honors I have as a priest is distributing the Eucharist during mass.  When I look into the eyes of the people and declare this “the body of Christ,” the joy and meaning that you see in the expressions of the people can be amazing.  It is hard to put into words sometimes, but our hearts know what the bread of life means to us and to our own lives. 
         That is because the daily bread that we receive from Christ brings us new life - it calls us to a continuing process of transformation, conversion, & renewal.  We as a people of faith live in the same physical world as people without this faith.  However, our faith gives us a new filter & a new lens in which we look at the world.  It is through faith that we are able to believe that the Eucharist is truly the body & blood of Christ.  It is through faith that we are able proclaim the dignity of all human life in a secular culture that sees so many people in our society as disposable & unwanted.   Through our faith, we are in solidarity and union with Jesus and with our brothers & sisters.  We are in union with them not only when times are good and when the bread we eat is plentiful, but most especially when we are suffering with Jesus on his way to the cross.  Through our faith, we are challenged by Jesus Christ to go beyond the skepticism and cynicism that engulfs so much of our world, to go beyond the sarcasm and the existential angst of modern society.
Even though we are challenged, encouraged, and pushed to grow in our faith, Christ always approaches us with mercy and love.  He helps us in our weaknesses, in our unbelief.  We are called to go through our lives of faith by looking at the bread and wine of the Eucharist that we share together as a community as a sign of Christ’s love for us, Only our faith in our daily bread will satisfy our hunger and thirst for what is most important in life. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

8/3/2012 – Friday of 18th week in ordinary time – Matthew 13:54-58

       We hear about how Jesus is unable to work miracles in his hometown because of the people’s lack of faith.  They know Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph, as a humble carpenter.  They have seen Jesus growing up as a child and a youth in their midst.  Who does he think he is, think that he can teach them and preach in their synagogue? 
         We can be the same way in our own lives, can’t we?  We can see things in a certain way, we can cling to our own perspective to what is common and familiar, and not be open to the reality that is right before our eyes.  I remember that when I was a missionary, I would have someone visit me, and their perspectives would bring me great insights and hope.  I had to be willing to listen to what they had to say in order to learn from seeing things from their point of view. Often we want to cling to the common and familiar, not willing to open our hearts to new perspectives.
         I think of how many of us take church for granted.  So often we take for granted the gifts and talents that different members bring to our parish. As well,  we often fail to see the miracle in the Eucharist that we receive each week at mass.  Sometimes I can look into someone’s eyes or face and know that the Eucharist is reaching his heart or touching his life in a special way.  However, sometimes we can see the Eucharist with disinterest or boredom, not seeing the miracle of Jesus that comes to us in this heavenly bread.
         Let us open ourselves to the beauty and miracles in our lives and in our faith that are present to us each day.  Let us not be complacent with that which is commonplace.  


8/2/2012 – Thursday of 18th week of ordinary time – Jeremiah 18:1-6

          The Lord gives us different images and symbols through the prophets that help us understand what God is all about.  Today, we hear about the image of a potter who creates different images out of the clay. I don’t know if you have ever made an object out of clay, but it is so wonderfully earthy and organic to feel the clay in one’s hands and to fashion an object out of it.  The people of Israel are in the hands of the master potter, just as we are as well.  We are all made in the image of God.  He can fashion us and mold us each day of our lives if we allow him to do so. 
         God can rework our lives when something does not work out, just as the potter can rework a lump of clay. This should give us great hope and encouragement as we continue on our journey of faith.  Sometimes we make bad choices.  Sometimes we falter or mess up.  Sometimes life does not go as we plan.  Yet, the Lord has the power to work miracles in our lives, to help us start anew.  We have to be willing to let the Lord work in our lives. We need to be open to his will and his call.  This is not easy, that is for sure.  But, oh the miracles that will occur.  


8/1/2012 – Wednesday of 17th week in ordinary time – St Alphonsus Liguori – Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21

          Do we ever feel like Jeremiah does in today’s reading?  He tells the Lord that he has been faithful to him, that he has tried to listen to God’s call and respond accordingly.  Yet, the people have turned against Jeremiah and his prophecy in such a terrible way that Jeremiah wishes that he had never been born.  God tells Jeremiah that he will be with him, that he will deliver Jeremiah from the hands of the wicked and the violent. 
         Alphonsus Liguori is the saint whose feast day we celebrate today.  Born in the late 17th century, he studied law at the age of 16, and after having a very successful law career, decided to become a priest at the age of 27.  He started his priesthood working with the poor and marginalized youth of the city of Naples, Italy.  He very soon founded the congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly known as the Redemptorists.  This congregation specialized in preaching and teaching in the slums of the cities and other poor areas.  From his experiences in ministering the poor, he developed a moral theology that had great influence in the Church.  Liguori was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871.
         Serving God as a priest or a layperson in our Church is not always easy.  We can open ourselves to opposition or great struggle in our personal lives.  I came across a quote of St Alphonsus Liguori that says: God never rejects a humble and repentant heart.  We need to remember that when we’ve done wrong, when we need to go to God for help.  Faithful servants such as Jeremiah and Alphonsus Liguori place their trust in the Lord and serve him in the reality of their lives.  Sometimes we want to cry out to the Lord in the midst of our pain and frustrations.  Yet, the Lord is there for us, he is there to help us to remain his faithful servant.  

7/31/2012 – Tuesday of 17th week in ordinary time – St Ignatius of Loyola – Jeremiah 14: 17 – 22

          The people of Israel are suffering, yet they are not afraid to ask God why.  They ask God: Have you cast Judah off?  Is Zion loathsome to you?  The people are willing to acknowledge the sins of their fathers and their own sins that they’ve committed against God.  They ask God to remember the covenant that he made with them, to forgive them in honor of his own name.
         We live in a society where so many people are not willing to acknowledge the wrongs that they have done.  It is so much easier to blame the system, to blame someone else, to sue someone, to not take responsibility.  The people were confronting God in the midst of suffering from a great draught.  I wonder if some of the farmers in the Midwest who are losing all of their crops this summer cry out to God in the same way. 
         Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day we celebrate today, confronted God in this same spirit of honesty.  He was a wounded soldier recuperating in bed when he got the call from the Lord to serve him.  After a conversion of heart and time spent in the wilderness, Ignatius spent time in the seminary at the University of Paris, where he got the idea to start a new order, the Jesuits, which is actually the largest religious order of priests in the world today.  Leaving behind the life of a solider was not easy for him – it meant confronting his demons and the way of life he followed.  Yet, Ignatius stands as a witness today of someone who was able to confront God with great honesty and candor.  May we have the courage to do the same.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

7/29/2012 – decimoséptimo domingo del tiempo ordinario – Juan 6, 1-15

        Jesús y sus discípulos quieren ir a un lugar solitario para descansar. Pero, la muchedumbre quiere seguir.  La muchedumbre tiene hambre – hambre en muchos sentidos.  Jesús se da cuenta que hay hambre para comer, pero hay otros tipos de hambre también en nuestra vida.  Con su milagro de la multiplicación de los panes y los peces, Jesús y sus discípulos pueden dar comida a la muchedumbre hambriento.  La gente coge toda la comida que quiere – y mucha comida de sobra.  En este milagro, la muchedumbre se da cuenta que Jesús es el profeta verdadero de Dios – él está presente con ellos. 
         Hay mucha gente que no tiene comida suficiente en nuestro mundo, que tiene hambre.  Hay un comedor de beneficencia aquí en Yazoo City que se llama “Casa de Mana” donde la gente puede ir para almorzar gratis.  Pero, hay otra hambre que existe en nuestro mundo también.  Ustedes conocen que fui a España como peregrino en el mes de abril de este año al Comino de Santiago de Compostela.  Encontré dos mujeres en el Camino – una ingeniera y una científica.  En su trabajo en los Estados Unidos, ganaron mucho dinero, y tenían mucho éxito.  Pero, había un vacío en sus vidas en su trabajo también – tenían hambre para algo en sus vidas.  Salieron sus puestos de trabajo, y fueron al Camino de Santiago para mirar la voluntad de Dios en sus vidas.  Tenían mucha esperanza para encontrar las respuestas que tenían en sus vidas, para encontrar la llamada de Dios sobre su trabajo.
         Hay personas en nuestro mundo que tienen hambre de justicia, hambre de dignidad humana, hambre de paz.  Hay hambre de paz cuando hay ira adentro, cuando no hay tranquilidad en nuestro alma, y hay hambre de paz en la violencia que existe en nuestras calles y en nuestros barrios.  Hay mucho niveles de hambre que podemos tener en nuestro mundo.  Hablé con los prisioneros en la cárcel esta semana sobre esta lectura de Juan.  Podemos imaginarnos el hambre que ellos tiene para regresar a su familias y a su vida al mundo libre.  Tenemos hambre de muchas cosas, pero para satisfacer esta hambre, vamos a muchos lugares malos, como en las drogas o el alcohol, en el placer, en las cosas materiales y las riquezas, en la posición social y la popularidad.  La muchedumbre en Israel antiguo estaba buscando una manera para satisfacer su hambre – y es igual con nosotros también.  Jesús vio la muchedumbre y tuvo compasión, porque ellos andaban como ovejas sin pastor.  Había algo en Jesús que la muchedumbre reconoció.  Hay mucha ovejas en nuestro mundo moderno también – ellos andan como ovejas sin pastor también.  ¿Cuál tipo de hambre tenemos en nuestra vida?  Vamos a Jesús para satisfacer nuestra hambre, para encontrar la paz y el cumplimiento que necesitamos en nuestra vida? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

7/29/2012 – 17th Sunday in ordinary time – John 6:1-15

      (Ceramic fish made by Laura Tarbutton,
on the staff of the Cathedral of St Peter
in Jackson, Mississippi)

        Jesus and his disciples try to get away for some rest and relaxation, but the crowds keep following them.  Jesus and his disciples have captured the imagination and the attention of the people wherever they go.  The crowds hunger for something.  Jesus realizes that part of this hunger is a physical hunger, that feeding their physical appetite will not only satisfy one level of hunger that they have, but it will be a sign that he will be able to feed the other types of hunger that they have as well.  So, with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, Jesus and the disciples are able to feed the hungry crowds.  The crowds take as much food as they want until they are satisfied.  Believe it or not, there were still baskets and baskets of food left over.  Through this miracle, the crowds recognize Jesus as the true prophet of God who has come into their midst.
         Physical hunger still exists in our world today.  You don’t have to look further than those who turn to Manna House for a meal to see the face of hunger even in our own community of Yazoo City.  But there are other types of hunger that exist in our world as well that are just as serious.  On my pilgrimage to Spain last April, I met two ladies who were walking the pilgrimage route.  Erica was an environmental engineer from the Bay area in northern California, while Tracy ran drug trials for a large pharmaceutical company in Georgia.  It sounded like economically, both women were quite successful in their jobs and were earning a good living.  However, they hungered for something more in their lives, for jobs that fulfilled them more than on an economic level.  Both Tracy and Erica quit their jobs, which I am sure was not an easy thing to do in this difficult economy.  This hunger for fulfillment at work and in their lives in general led them to the pilgrims’ trail to the Way of St James in Spain.  They were hoping to find answers and a direction to where God was calling them.
         From the beginning of time, human beings have wanted to transcend their existence here on earth, to connect with the divine, to find meaning in something greater than their own existence.  Even those of us who are followers of Christ still feel a hunger in our lives that keeps gnawing away at us.  I recently saw the cover article of Newsweek magazine that talked about how all the modern technology we use isolates us and causes depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness in so many people in our society.  Yet, more than 50 years ago, Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who became one of the most popular Catholic authors of the twentieth century, had an epiphany while walking the streets of Louisville, Kentucky.  He had already lived in the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky for 17 years.  In many ways, he lived a separate life that put him apart from the rest of the world.  Yet, as he walked amongst the people in this bustling American city, he felt his connection with humanity and felt a great love for his fellow human beings.  He felt a great joy in being a member of the human race, in being in solidarity with all of humanity.  We can hunger for a more meaningful connect with our fellow human beings, but what are we doing about it?  How does our faith satisfy this hunger, helping us to serve our brothers and sisters?
         Hungering for justice, hungering for dignity, hungering for peace and for righteousness – these are all other types of hunger we can feel in our world today.  I just spoke to the prisoners at the Yazoo County regional correctional facility this week about this particular Gospel reading, in which you can just imagine the hunger they have for a return to their lives on the outside world, a return to their families and loved ones.  We hunger for so many things in our lives.  But we often turn to the wrong things to satisfy this hunger: drugs and alcohol, thrills and pleasures, popularity and social status, material objects and the accumulation of wealth.  We search in so many places we may be like the crowds that Jesus observed in his day, of people who were like sheep without a shepherd.  Yet, the crowds recognized something special in Jesus.  They raced around the countryside to follow him wherever he went.  Yet, Jesus would not let the people carry him off to become their king.  Jesus was not yet through with his journey, he was still called to follow the will of the Father.  Jesus was not willing to let the people make him their idol. 
         What is the hunger that is driving us in our lives?  Do we turn to Jesus to satisfy that hunger, to find the peace and fulfillment we need in only him?