Sunday, August 2, 2015

Turning To Our Heavenly Father

A young mother was at her wit’s end when her phone suddenly rang.
“Oh mother,” she sobbed. “I don’t know what to do. The baby was up all night sick and still won’t go back to sleep. The house is upside down, and we are having company for dinner tonight. Nothing is getting done, and I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Please, Dear, stop crying,” the woman replied. “Go take care of the baby. I will go to the market for you and pick up the groceries you’ll need for supper. When I get to the house, I will help you tidy up, and we can prepare supper together. When we’re done, I will take the baby for the night so that you can enjoy your guests and get a good night sleep. Before I leave, I will call Charlie and let him know that everything is taken care of.”

The young mother was confused. “Who’s Charlie?”, she asked.

“Why, Dear, Charlie is your husband,” the woman replied.

“My husband’s name isn’t Charlie. It’s Brad,” she said.

“Is this 555-7755?” The woman asked.

“No. It’s 555-7557.”

“Oh no. I’m afraid I’ve dialed the wrong number”, the woman said.

The young woman cried out, “Does that mean you’re not coming over?!”

When we are feeling overwhelmed and do not even know where to begin, it is natural for us to turn to our parents for help. However, they can only do so much. Nonetheless we have a Heavenly Father who knows all our needs and can provide them. He never calls the wrong number but comes to our assistance whenever the burdens of life become too much to bear.

This is the lesson the Israelites learned in the desert shortly after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Though their captivity was bitter and cruel, they had grown accustomed to never having to worry about having enough to eat. Now the long trek through the hot desert and the hunger they experienced began to make them wonder whether slavery was not so bad after all. God answers by providing abundant manna in the morning and quail in the evening. He shows Himself to be their all-loving Father by not only freeing them from slavery but providing for them on the way to the land He promised them. In the same way He promises to provide for us no matter how great or small our need may be.

In the second reading, Saint Paul encourages us not to live as the Gentiles do. They are stressed out worrying about their needs and are focused solely on how to satisfy themselves. As Christians, we must have a different attitude. We have to eat and work and make a living for ourselves just as unbelievers do. However, we know that we do not have to rely on our own power to meet our needs. We know that we can also rely on our Heavenly Father to bear our burden with us, to carry us when we are unable to go on and to comfort us when the cares of life paralyze us.

We are different from unbelievers not only because we rely on our Heavenly Father, but also because our values and priorities are different. Like the Israelites who wandered through the desert on the way to a promised land, we live our earthly life with our hope fixed on an eternal life with God in heaven. We understand that this world is passing away and that a better world is awaiting us with God. Through faith, we perceive that what seems of utmost importance today will eventually be of little consequence. So, as Jesus tells us, we do not only work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.  Along with our jobs, we take time to pray, to read the Scriptures and receive the Sacraments. We nourish not only our bodies but our souls knowing that both are destined to share eternal life with our Heavenly Father.

That attitude also helps us to endure all the many hardships of life. We know that all things can work for our good. No matter what trials or sufferings we endure, God can use them to strengthen our spirits. Through the difficulties of life God teaches us patience, compassion and perseverance. Even when we face unemployment, sickness and poverty, we trust that God will give us what we need to get through it and that, when this earthly life has ended, the virtues we gained will remain with us. Therefore, we have no reason to fear because our Heavenly Father is in control, and we can trust that He will never forsake us.

Saint Francis de Sales has a beautiful prayer for those of us who find ourselves nurturing regrets over our past or worrying about the future: “Father, I offer up my past to your mercy, my future to your providence and my present to your faithfulness.” At this Mass, God renews His promise to us by offering us the bread from heaven. It is the true bread that endures for eternal life given to us who believe. We receive this bread, the Body of our Lord, with joy knowing that through it we will be strengthened not only to endure the trials of this life but to pass through to the unending joys of the life to come.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Loving Service

It does not take much to do good, to relieve suffering or to show love.

Consider the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

When she moved to India to serve the poorest of the poor, she had nothing. She had no master plan or endowment to start her order. Rather she simply walked the streets, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick with whatever resources she could muster. She gave the little she had and through her generosity and holiness she touched many hearts and changed many lives.

One day she was out walking the streets when she came upon a homeless man dying in the gutter. With the help of some men, she had him brought to her home. There she washed him, prepared a small meal for him and prayed. For three hours she did nothing but sit with him.  He looked up at her and said, “My whole life I have been treated like an animal, now I will die like an angel.” She was not able to give him much - just her time and her love - yet it gave dignity to a man in his final hours on earth so that, instead of dying in the streets he could die in the arms of a saint.

When we read through the gospels, we discover that Jesus never turns away those in need. Whether they have a question, whether they need healing or whether they are hungry, He gives them what He has and it never fails to satisfy. Today’s story about the multiplication of the loaves and fish is a case in point. The five barley loaves and two fish would not have been enough to feed the apostles, never mind a throng of five thousand men. Yet Jesus refuses to keep the food to Himself. Rather He took it, blessed it and gave it away. That small act of generosity was enough to satisfy a hungry mass of people with plenty left over.

How often do we have the opportunity to help someone but look the other way because we are afraid that we do not have enough resources, enough talents or enough time to do any good? How often do we cling so jealously to the little we have that we cannot open our hands to give to those who have even less than we do?

It is a spiritual law that God uses those who have the least ability to do His work. We often say, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” Well, when God wants to get something done, He asks a poor person. By choosing those who are weak, deprived and even sinful, our Heavenly Father makes it clear that it is He who is at work. Otherwise we might chalk the good deeds up to the cleverness or resourcefulness of those who do them rather than the God who makes all things possible.

God wants to do great things in our families, in our parish and in our community. He wants to feed the hungry, He wants to console the suffering and He wants to change hardened hearts. But He needs us to help Him. He needs us to give even when we think we have too little, to work even when we feel exhausted and to open our mouths even when we think we have nothing to say. We need to take risks as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta did by ministering to those dying on the streets and as the boy in the gospel did who gave His basket of food to Jesus. When we do that, when we step outside our comfort zone in faith, God will take care of the rest.

What is God calling me to give? Where does He want to send me to find the hungry and the suffering? Who needs to hear me witness about my faith? What would it take for me to really surrender my time, treasure and talents to His service? Those are all questions we should bring to prayer every day so that God’s healing and saving work may be accomplished through us.

We gather here today like the crowd in the gospel. We have seen the signs of His presence in our lives. We have heard His word, and He will feed us with the bread of life. Simple gifts of bread and wine will be brought to this altar. We will take it, bless it and distribute it and all of us will have our fill. There will even be some left over which we will keep in the tabernacle to take to the sick who could not be with us today. In this Eucharist, Jesus gives us everything He has - His very body. When we leave this place, can we do the same so that the blessings of this Mass may be multiplied throughout our society and throughout our world?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Kingdom of Plenty

After seeing the miracle Jesus performed, the crowd wanted to make him their king. They probably thought that with Jesus ruling over them all their problems would be solved. Only a man like Jesus who could feed five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fishes would be able to put an end to hunger and poverty in Israel. Only a man like Jesus who could cure any illness would be able to banish sickness and suffering from the land. Only a man like Jesus who could get such great numbers of people to follow him could find enough popular support to lead an uprising against the Roman Empire so that Palestine could be free again. This was what they felt they needed from a king. This was the kind of "salvation" they wanted Jesus to bring - an end to everything that made their lives miserable and hard.

But Jesus always rejected the crowd's desire to make him their king. Being an earthly ruler was not the reason the Father sent him to live among us. As Jesus will say in next week's gospel, "You should not be working for perishable food, but for food that remains unto eternal life." Jesus knew that the five thousand people he fed would get hungry again and soon need to find more food. Likewise, all the people he cured of leprosy and other illnesses would eventually get sick again and die. None of those miracles would have lasting effects except as signs of Jesus' power and of faith in those who witnessed them. What Jesus wanted to do for Israel - and for us - was something that no king could give his people; something that would not only have a temporary effect for one nation, but would last forever and be offered to all people of every age. By dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus showed what type of a king he was - a king who could free us from our sins and give us everlasting life with him in heaven where there is no more hunger, no more sickness, no more wars and no more death.

Earthly kings rule over lands and territories by coercion, threatening force against all who would disobey them. Jesus, however, rules over the human heart through love. Jesus is the type of king who gets to the root of what is wrong with each of us and the whole world, namely, sin. He treats the rebellion in our hearts that steers us in the wrong direction - away from his love and mercy and into selfishness. Like the crowd in today's gospel, we prefer the bread to the one who gives the bread. We prefer our possessions to the one who gives us everything we have. We prefer to have total control over our lives rather than submit ourselves with loving trust to the God who created us to fit a certain plan.

But Jesus teaches us what it means to turn away from the sin that is the cause of so much misery in our world; to turn away from the violence which is the cause of so much war and murder; to turn away from the greed which leaves people poor and hungry. Because he is God and lives in each of us, Jesus is the type of king who can make an appeal directly to the human heart to stop hating and to start loving. No king could know all his subjects by name, know all their needs or love them enough to die for each of them. Jesus is just such a king.

Jesus' kingdom will come in its full glory only at the end of the world when all will stand before his throne for judgement. But we do not have to wait until the end of the world or until we get into heaven to know the salvation which Jesus brings. All of us who have turned to Jesus as our Savior and allowed him to be the King of our hearts by making a decision to live as he did already have a taste of what that salvation means. Everyone here has a personal story about what believing in Jesus has done for them. Some people thought they were worthless and good for nothing until they learned how much Jesus loves them. Some people had no meaning in their lives, stuck in jobs they hated, until they believed in Jesus and learned that God has a plan for them. Some people constantly worried about money, about their health or about their future until they learned to place their trust in Jesus who provides for all our needs and who makes all things work for the good. The salvation Jesus won for us by dying on the cross is not something we can only "cash in on" when we get to heaven, but it is something already at work in our lives, changing us from the inside out.

At this altar we will gather to celebrate the everlasting gift of Jesus' love - the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. No other healing can cure the root of the sickness that ails us. No military victory could have won for us the freedom from sin that Jesus won for us on the cross. No other miracle than the Body and Blood of Jesus could feed and satisfy the deepest hunger within us for God. What we celebrate every Sunday when we take time off from our work to hear the word of God and to gather around the altar is precisely this - the freedom from sin and the everlasting life which God offers us in our King and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Compassion for the Crowd

There are many different types of poverty and different causes for it.

The type of poverty that we are most familiar with is material poverty.  It is the heart-wrenching destitution of those who do not have enough food to feed their families or do not have adequate shelter. We see it not only in the third world, but also in the developed countries in the form of homelessness, unemployment and lack of adequate health care. Sadly, with all the advances of science and the growth in wealth in so much of the world, we have not been able to eradicate so much of the needless suffering of our fellow human beings.

As painful as material poverty is, there is another type of need that we experience in our world  today. It is spiritual poverty. In many ways, this is a hidden type of poverty. It can take place in rich countries as well as in poor ones. It can afflict those who live in wealthy suburbs as well as those living in slums.

When Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta came to the United States, she remarked that she had never seen so much spiritual poverty. Though she dealt with starvation and sickness on a daily basis in the streets of one of the world’s poorest cities, she saw a different kind of poverty in America. It was the loneliness of those who did not know their neighbors. It was the exhaustion of those who drove themselves to earn more and more at the expense of their families. It was the boredom and aimlessness of youth who bought into the lie that the only purpose for their existence was to experience more and more pleasure. No amount of food, technology or government spending could alleviate that type of poverty which is so pervasive in our modern societies.

Though material poverty is difficult to remedy, there is a cure for the spiritual poverty we suffer from. It is Jesus. Spiritual poverty is nothing else but the lack of God in our life. Our souls were created to be in relationship with our Heavenly Father. Nothing else can take the place of that deep need within us. Jesus was sent by the Father to reveal His love and restore our relationship with Him which had been broken through sin.

Saint Paul in the second reading explains that, before Jesus, there was a wall of enmity between us and God. It was a wall built up by human hatred, greed and pride. It served as a prison which we built brick by brick through our ignorance, fear and wickedness. At the same time, the God we longed for was on the other side of that wall. We could not knock it down on our own or climb over it. Through the cross, Jesus was able to destroy it and reunite us with our Heavenly Father. As Saint Paul explains, “...through him we...have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

If we are feeling lonely, if we are burdened with the weight of our sins, if we are exhausted from trying to live up to the world’s expectations, we need simply turn to Jesus for peace and refreshment. If we have lost our way in life, if we can see no purpose for our existence, if there is no joy in our hearts, Jesus can point out the way to a fuller life. If we feel isolated, unable to connect with others and uncomfortable in our own skin, the answer is Jesus who reveals to us that we are loved through and through by an Almighty God who created us and knows us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus takes pity on the crowd that had gathered to see Him. They were poor, tired and suffering people who needed a word of consolation. Though He and His disciples were worn out and had not even had the chance to eat, He could not help but reach out to them with the love of His Father.

Jesus never turns His back on us when we are suffering. Whatever type of poverty we may be experiencing, we can bring it to Him and expect that He will see us through it. Sometimes we feel that in a world with so many people, God could not possibly know or be concerned with our needs. But nothing could be further from the truth. He is an All-Powerful God. There are no limits to His knowledge and His power. He knows each of us better than we know ourselves and He loves us more than we love ourselves. No matter what, we can turn to Him and expect to receive an answer. It might not be the answer we want, but it will be exactly what we need.

That is why we gather here today. Here we experience what the world has longed for - communion with our Heavenly Father. We hear Him speak to us through His word and we taste the bread of Heaven. We experience the love of a God who did not spare His only Son for us. We can expect that He will provide for all our needs beside if we turn to Him with faith, confidence and trust.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Song of the Shepherd

A short Italian man, Enrico, worked as a janitor in one of the office buildings in the city of Rome, Italy. To pass the time as he washed windows, painted walls or cleaned out office rooms, he would hum the most beautiful melodies. One of the office workers approached him out of curiosity to ask where he learned to sing such melodious songs. He explained that as a boy he lived in one of the small towns in the hills surrounding Rome. His father owned some sheep and he would help bring them out to pasture. To let the sheep know that someone was close by keeping an eye on them, he and his father would hum the songs. If they ever got distracted and stopped humming, the sheep would get excited, stop eating and begin to panic. Once they began humming the songs again, the sheep would settle down and feel secure. They needed to hear the humming to know that their shepherd was nearby and that they were safe.

The author of the twenty-third psalm which we prayed together after the first reading loved to think of God as a shepherd. God was always close to him providing him with all he needed and comforting him. Because God was always by his side, he felt that nothing could make him afraid. As he writes: "Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side." Just as the sheep could graze in peace knowing their shepherd was nearby, so the sacred author of this psalm felt that God was so close to him and so protective of him that he could live in peace, confident that all would be well.

So much in life can make us panic. There are so many bills to be paid, but only so much money. There is so much work to be done, but only so much time and energy. The obligations and demands of being a parent, a student or a priest can seem overwhelming and impossible.  But within the roar of our daily activities a gently humming can be heard if we slow down long enough to notice it. Our God is always at our side giving us what we need to make it through the day. The Lord is our shepherd; there is nothing we shall want.

Do we face the difficulties of life with the confidence that God is close by? No matter how busy our schedules may be, do we take time aside to pray as Jesus and the apostles tried to do in today's gospel and listen for the voice of our shepherd? Do we trust God to lead us in paths that are right and to provide for our needs and the needs of our family?

Jesus is still among us as our shepherd. Though we can no longer see and touch him, he is very much in control of our lives leading us and protecting us. His Holy Spirit, which we received at our baptism, speaks to our hearts and assures us that he is close by. The Holy Spirit is the voice of God humming within us giving us joy and confidence as we face the challenges of life in the 21st century. We simply need to make the time each day to step out of our routine and listen for that gentle voice in the silence.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Living The Gospel At Work

Saint Josemaria Escriba had a radical idea. He would form an order not of priests or religious women but of lay people dedicated to living out their faith in the world.  Rather than serve the Church directly as catechists or administrators, they would live their faith out in their workplace. By witnessing to Christ in their schools, offices and factories, they would bring the light of the gospel out from the four walls of their churches into the wider world to touch people who otherwise would never go to Mass or have contact with a priest or religious. And so, he formed a group called Opus Dei, Latin for “work of God”, to form lay people in their faith so that they could go out and bring the teaching of Christ into the world.

When the Scriptures talk about God’s call, it is usually to individuals who are chosen for a great task whether it be to serve the people as a prophet as Amos was in today’s first reading or to follow Jesus as the disciples in the gospel.did This calling required that they leave their jobs. The prophet Amos had to leave his work as a shepherd and dresser of sycamores in Judah to speak God’s word at Bethel. The apostles left their jobs as fishermen to follow Jesus. The same is true today. Many are still called to serve God in a radical way by leaving their jobs to serve as priests and religious.  However, most of us are called to witness to Jesus at our places of work or in our schools. We are still called to follow Him, but to do it where we are, to bring Him to places where He would otherwise not be talked about and to people who otherwise would not be exposed to Christian love.

That means that it is not only the religious women and men, the priest or the deacons who have the responsibility of spreading the gospel. Through baptism, each one of us is responsible for bringing Christ to the world. Through confirmation, we are given the Holy Spirit who gifts us with courage to speak the truth, perseverance to remain faithful when we are tempted and love to see Christ in all people. God is calling us to bring His Kingdom into the lives of the people around us who might never otherwise hear the good news of His love.

It does not mean jumping up on our desks and preaching a fire and brimstone sermon. It does not mean interrupting a staff meeting to share a passage from the Bible. Rather it means living out the faith sometimes in quiet ways by not participating in gossip, always telling the truth and taking notice of those in our workplaces who have difficulty making friends or who may be struggling with their jobs. Other times it will mean standing up for those who are picked on, clarifying the Church’s teaching when someone misrepresents it or defending the faith in a gentle way when someone is ridiculing it. Living in such a way will not only make our offices, schools and factories more peaceful places but it will open hearts to the love of God manifest in Jesus and at work in a powerful way through the Catholic Church.

How can we begin to be a better witness to Jesus at our work? It all starts with prayer. We should all begin our work day by offering our efforts up to God. If we are facing a particularly challenging day, we can offer up that suffering in union with Jesus on the cross. In this way, we acknowledge that God is with us even in our work. Then we must pray for the grace to remain faithful to Him throughout the day. We should ask for whatever we need to meet the challenges of the day whether it be for patience to deal with an irritable co-worker or wisdom to answer the questions someone may have about our faith. We can be sure that God will answer those humble prayers and empower us to bring His light with us wherever we go.

When we live the gospel message, we also have to be prepared for rejection. Some people are so angry at the Church or so caught up in the pleasures of the world that they do not want to hear the good news or be associated with people of faith. They may try to insult us or take every opportunity to offend us. Jesus has some advice for us. He told His disciples that when they encounter such people they are to just shake the dust off their sandals. In other words, we should not take this rejection personally. They are not rejecting us but Jesus, so we should let it roll off us. And it could be that by our patience and prayers, they may one day open their hearts to the love of God.

In the past, the gospel message was spread by those who left their families, jobs and even their homeland to witness to Jesus. Now that the good news has been spread throughout the world, as a Church we must undertake a new missionary effort - not to foreign lands or to foreign people but to the many lost sheep we meet everyday in our schools, workplaces and families. In today’s world it is up to each of us no matter what we do to live the good news in such a way that it opens minds up to God and heals angry and bitter hearts. We can do that with confidence, for as Saint Josemaria Escriba teaches us, it is a work of God. He will accomplish it through us in mostly hidden ways if we offer ourselves humbly and confidently to Him.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How Is God Calling You?

Her name was Olga Bejano Dominguez. From the age of 23, after a series of illnesses and a heart attack, she was left unable to see, speak, move or breathe without the assistance of a machine. Faced with loneliness and despair, she decided to give her life to God and find in her faith a reason to keep on living with hope. With the help of a nurse, she wrote four books about her experiences and insights which became bestsellers throughout her native Spain. Upon her death in December of 2008, her mother said that at least four people were inspired to not commit suicide because of her daughter's writings. Most people would have considered Olga's life over the minute she lost use of her eyes, voice and limbs. And yet she saw her life as only just beginning. God called her at the moment she seemed most weak and unable to serve him and used her to inspire others with the hope that all things are possible with him.

His name was Amos, a poor shepherd from the town of Tekoa, south of Jerusalem. Though uneducated, he was called by God to speak his word at the royal temple of Bethel. Because of its prestige, Bethel was the home of the most educated priests of Israel. King Jeroboam, who was ruling over Israel at the time, had at his beck and call any number of prophets willing to tell him whatever he wanted to hear. And yet God called a simple shepherd to warn the king that Israel was headed for sure destruction if they did not return to the pure worship of the Lord who had given them the Promised Land. The priests and prophets of King Jeroboam's court would look down their noses at Amos asking him by what right he dared speak to the king. They told him to go somewhere else to find work as a prophet. Yet Amos continued to speak out recognizing that it was not by his own authority that he was speaking but by command of the God of hosts. Despite his lack of credentials, Amos is the first prophet of the Old Testament to have a book named after him. Amos trusted not in his own knowledge and ability, but in the power of God, and God used him to bring his word to the most powerful people of the day.

Their names were Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Phillip, Bartholomew, John, James, Simon, Jude, James, son of Alphaeus, and Judas Iscariot. They were simple fishermen, tax collectors and political radicals. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees of the day, they held no prestige and could make no claim to being experts in the Law. Yet Jesus chose them to be the ones to bring his teaching to the people of Israel. In today's gospel, he sends them out with nothing except the clothes on their backs. Despite their lack of education and resources, they are able to cast out demons and heal the sick - miracles which the Pharisees and scribes were never able to perform. Jesus chose simple men for the great task of preaching repentance to the nations. He made them the foundation of the Church he would build which he promised would last through all ages. We stand here today as witnesses to their success through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What is your name? What do you do? How is God calling you? What is keeping you from saying "yes" to God's call?

Each of us has been called by God for a task which only we can perform. Each of us is irreplaceable in the sight of God. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that we were chosen by him even before the world began. No one else in the history of the universe can do what God is calling us to do.

Are we afraid that we do not have enough education? Are we afraid that we do not have enough resources? Are we afraid that we do not have enough talent?

Certainly, most of us have an advantage over Olga Bejano Dominguez. She could not see, speak, move or even breathe. Yet she was able to spread God's word of hope throughout Spain. What excuses could we make when faced with her example of courage and perseverance?

We most certainly have more education and resources than the prophet Amos and the apostles did. Yet their words continue to inspire us over the centuries. Can we honestly say that we are ill-equipped to spread God's word when we consider the obstacles which they faced?

There is only one resource that is necessary to accomplish God's will - faith. That is why Jesus sends the apostles out with nothing except their clothes, sandals and a walking stick. They already carried within themselves all that they needed to preach the gospel of repentance. We were given that faith at our baptism and it is continually being nourished by Scripture and by the sacraments. No amount of talent or education can take the place of what simple faith is able to accomplish in our lives and in our world. Each of us already carries within us what allowed Olga Bejano Dominguez to overcome her disabilities and what compelled Amos and the apostles to spread God's word with boldness. 

Whoever we are, whatever we are and wherever we are, we are each called to witness to the power and love of our Almighty God. It does not require lofty rhetoric or complicated philosophical arguments. It does not require wealth or prestige. It only requires of us simple faith to believe that God has placed people in our lives for a reason and that he will give us whatever we need to bring his word into the lives of those we live with, work with or bump into in the course of our everyday lives. God has called each of us here today to hear this challenging message and is sending each of us from here as messengers of his good news. Can anything hold us back when God himself is our strength?