Friday, August 29, 2014

On This Rock

Ask any good Jew in Jesus’ day where the center of his faith was located and he would tell you without hesitation, “The Temple in Jerusalem.”

The Temple  was a massive structure constructed of huge stones and adorned with gold and precious gems. Taking over forty years to build, it could be seen for miles around.

It was the center of the Jewish faith because it represented God’s dwelling place on earth. The Lord in all His glory lived in the Temple and could be found there. It was there that sacrifices were made in atonement for sin and all the feast days were observed.

The Temple was situated in a very significant location in the city. It was built on the highest point, Mount Moriah. It was on that mountain that Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, before the angel stopped him and gave him a ram to slaughter instead. Mount Moriah was the rock on which God tested Abraham’s faith. So, quite literally, the Temple in Jerusalem was built on the rock of Abraham and his  faith.

In today’s gospel, we read about another rock, Peter. Jesus is testing the disciples’ faith in Him. Do they really understand who He is and why He came to earth? Are they willing to proclaim it boldly to others? “Who do you say that I am?”, Jesus asks. And in no uncertain terms, Peter stands up and replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus, for his part, proclaims him to be blessed for he received that knowledge directly from God. And He declared that He would build His Church on the rock of Peter and his declaration of faith.

To any Jew, the implication would have been clear. Just as the Temple was built on the rock of Abraham’s faith, so now Jesus’ Church was built on the rock of Peter and his faith. Jesus’ intention was to create a new Israel with the twelve apostles representing the twelve tribes of Israel. And the Church would be the new Temple. However, this Church would not be built of massive stones and adorned with gold. Instead it would be a spiritual Temple built of faithful people and adorned with virtue and holiness. It would not be located in Jerusalem or in any other city. Rather, it would stretch out to cover and embrace the whole world.

There are some who claim that Jesus never intended to institute a Church. They say that He was merely a good man teaching people that all they needed was to love each other. They say it was His disciples who started the Church on their own after His death. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus says specifically to the apostles, “I will build my Church.” The Church was founded by Jesus Himself and is built up by Him to spread the good news of God’s love throughout all the world, to extend the blessings of salvation to all people, to heal the brokenhearted and to feed the poor. The Church founded by Jesus to which we belong was given to the world as a blessing so that, through the Holy Spirit, He could continue to speak and act throughout history.

There are others who say that we really do not need the Church to have a relationship with Jesus. All we need to do is lead good lives and pray at home alone. While living a good life and praying are important, they are not enough to live a fully Christian life. We also need the helps that the Church provides for us. Consider this. How would we even know about Jesus and His death and resurrection if the Church had not proclaimed it over the centuries? How would we have the Bible to read if it had not been written, preserved and handed down by one generation of believers to another? How would we know anything about our faith if catechists and teachers had not dedicated their lives to instructing us in the mysteries of God? Without the Church we would have no idea who Jesus is. And without the Church we would not be able to receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The Church does not get in the way of our personal relationship with Jesus. Rather it sustains and nourishes it helping it to grow into the fullness that God intends for us.

Finally, there are those who say that it is fine to follow the Church’s teaching on matters of faith. But on moral issues we should be able to make our own decisions. This error is rampant in our society today and has led many people astray. The truth is that Jesus’ established His Church so that we would have all the truth we need to be saved and to live a joyful life. The truth that will set us free is not only the truth about Jesus and who He is, but the truth about how we should live as sons and daughters of God. When we hear a teaching that we disagree with or that does not make sense to us, our first reaction should not be to disregard it as if we knew more than the Church does. Rather we should try to understand it by talking to someone who can explain it to us, by looking it up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or by reading a book on the subject. Jesus said to His apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” So when we reject a teaching of the Church, we are rejecting a teaching of Jesus. None of us wants to do that. Therefore we should make every effort to understand, to embrace, to live out and to pass on to others all the truths the Church teaches whether it regards matters of faith or moral issues.

The Church is not just buildings and bishops. It is people. It is you and me. And because the Church is made up of human beings, it is imperfect and sinful. But it was left to us by Jesus to continue His saving message. Jesus loves the Church despite its failings, and we should love the Church too. If we want to know the truth, if we want to know Jesus, it can only be through the Church that He founded on the rock of Peter.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take this New Survey!

In today's gospel reading, Jesus takes a poll of his disciples. He wants to know what the people are saying about him, who they say he is. He wants to know if the authority of his teaching and the power of his miracles had convinced the people that he was the Messiah. But, from what the disciples could tell him, the people believed that he was no more than a prophet, no greater than Elijah, Jeremiah or John the Baptist.

Then, Jesus shocks them by turning the question on them: "Who do YOU say that I am?" We can imagine that some of the disciples were taken off guard and may have hung their heads, avoiding eye contact with Jesus because they weren't quite sure how to answer. It may have hurt Jesus to see many of his disciples not able to understand yet who he was. But, Simon, son of John, does not miss a beat. He boldly stands up and answers Jesus in front of everyone: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!" Simon Peter's profession of faith is bold because not only does he recognize Jesus to be the Messiah, the one who would save Israel, but because he also recognizes Jesus to be God himself - God made man.

Jesus, for his part, recognizes that Simon Peter's profession of faith was not something he had thought up on his own. It wasn't a result of Peter's thinking through the evidence and coming to a rational conclusion about who Jesus was. Rather, Jesus recognizes that Peter's profession of faith was a gift from God. God himself revealed to Peter who Jesus was: the Messiah and the Son of the Living God.

We wouldn't need to take a poll to tell us who the world thinks Jesus is. To the world, Jesus is just another good man. He is just another voice in the history of humanity, no different than Confucius, Mohammed or maybe even Nostradamus. In the world's eyes, it doesn't really matter if you believe in Jesus or believe in something or someone else. As they say, "It's all good." If you decide that Jesus isn't the one for you, you can find salvation somewhere else. To the world, it's all relative.

We know well what the world says about Jesus. But, the gospel turns the question on us. Who do WE say Jesus is? Who do I say Jesus is? Who do YOU say Jesus is? Is Jesus just another voice among many others throughout history; or, is Jesus THE voice of God the Father? Is Jesus just one way to salvation and everlasting life; or is Jesus THE way, the only way? Do we pick and choose the teachings of Jesus which we understand and agree with and ignore the rest; or do we believe that every word Jesus speaks is THE word of God which we must struggle to understand, to accept and to obey? And, do we believe that the Church Jesus built on Peter's profession of faith is necessary for our salvation; or do we think we can do it on our own.

What separated the disciples from the crowds of people who were merely interested in Jesus was ultimately the belief in Jesus as the Savior and the Son of God. What separates us from the world is the belief that Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way to salvation and the only way to everlasting life. Like Simon Peter, our belief is a gift from the Father, a gift of faith. It was first given to us in our baptism and strengthened by our confirmation. It continues to be nourished through the Eucharist. Our faith is a precious gift because it makes our Lord and Savior Jesus alive in our hearts and active in our lives.

In his book, Mere Christianity, the great Christian author, C.S. Lewis writes that when it comes to Jesus there can be no middle ground. If Jesus is God as he claimed to be, then we must believe everything he said and obey everything he commanded us to do since it all comes from God himself. If Jesus is not God, then he is a blasphemer and a lunatic whom we must reject altogether. The gospel calls us to a decision today. If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, will we love him with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength? Will we commit our lives to him and live as he commanded?

As we approach the body and blood of Christ in this Mass today, let us join with Saint Peter in professing our faith and reaffirming our commitment to Jesus by saying: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Faith in Pursuit of Jesus

Faith is the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Having faith is what makes the believer different from the non-believer. As followers of Jesus Christ, faith marks all that we are and do. Without it, we would just be going through the motions, doing only what had to be done to get by in life. However, with faith, we catch on fire with God’s love and become determined to live the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers us.

Since faith is such an essential element of our lives as Christians,  it is important for us to pay close attention to what the pagan woman in today’s gospel reading from Matthew can teach us. There are only a few people whom Jesus commends for their great faith. She is one of them. Let us together take a close look at this passage to discover what it has to teach us about the type of faith in Jesus Christ that can heal and save us.

First of all, the Canaanite woman teaches us that faith is centered in Jesus Christ. When she runs toward the disciples she is not yelling out, “Hey, one of you help me!”. She is not just looking for anyone to save her daughter. Rather, she is very specific. “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me.” She is looking for Jesus with faith that only He can heal her daughter.

Our faith has its center in Jesus Christ. It is not some vague belief that there is “something out there.” It is not just some naive hope that “everything will be alright” or that “everything happens for a reason.” Rather it is a belief rooted solidly in the person of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified, risen from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God, the Father. It is grounded in gratitude for all He did to save us and in the conviction that He knows us and loves us.

Therefore, the first lesson the Canaanite woman has for us today is that faith means seeking out Jesus and turning to Him in our need.

Secondly, the Canaanite woman teaches us that faith means trusting Jesus. When she seeks out our Lord, she has a very pressing need. Her daughter was suffering torment from demons. As any good mother would, she is doing all she can to relieve her daughter’s suffering. She puts it, therefore, in Jesus’ hands. She takes what is most precious to her - the life and health of her daughter - and entrusts it into Jesus’ care.

It is vital for our own walk of faith that we entrust everything we have and are in Jesus’ hands. Whatever is most precious to us is already His gift. Every good thing we enjoy - whether they be the people we love or the things we use - came from His creative hand. God showers them all upon us to provide for our needs and enrich our lives. Sometimes we have to surrender those good things by giving them to those who are poorer than we are. Sometimes we also have to let go of the people we love. When we can do so with generosity and grace, we show that we trust that God has a plan and that He will continue to provide for us.
We see this faith particularly in parents who have lost a child. None of us could imagine a more painful experience. However, so many people who find themselves in that situation, are able to accept the death of their beloved son or daughter with faith that God has a plan and that He will make it right. Such faith does not take the pain away, but it gives us strength to carry on with patience and hope.

Thirdly, the pagan woman teaches us that faith entails overcoming our prejudices and taking risks. The woman in today’s gospel is not  a Jew but a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were the original inhabitants of the Holy Land before the Hebrews settled there after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. It is fair to say that the Canaanites had the same feeling for Jews that native peoples in Australia, Africa and the Americas had for their European colonial settlers. As we see in Jesus’ first response to the woman, she must have expected Him to ignore her. However, she took a risk. She overcame her fear and prejudice to take the chance that Jesus could and would help her.

The founder of the Catholic television network, EWTN, often said, “God will not do the impossible in our lives if we are unwilling to do the ridiculous.” If we want to experience the power and presence of Jesus, we have to take some risks. We have to go out of our comfort zones to find Him where He told us He would be, among the poor and the outcasts. It means speaking to people we would otherwise avoid and putting our hand on the shoulders of those we find repulsive. It means overcoming our prejudices about the poor, the homeless and immigrants. It will mean speaking out when we would rather be silent and keeping quiet when we would rather speak out. If we have real faith in Jesus, it will be tested. But that only serves to make our faith stronger and to deepen our trust in our Heavenly Father.

In conclusion, therefore, the Canaanite woman teaches us that faith is an abiding trust grounded in the person of Jesus Christ which empowers us to do the impossible. It is important for us to remember that it was not all her yelling and screaming which got Jesus’ attention. Rather it was her faith. For us, it will not be just how many Masses we’ve attended, how many rosaries we have prayed or how many novenas we have completed - as important as all that is - that will get Jesus’ attention but our willingness to turn to Him in our need, to entrust all that is precious into His hands and our ability to take risks in following Him that will unlock for us all the power that He promised to those who believe.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Crying out!

Have you ever been out minding your own business and had someone come up to you whom you were really not interested in talking to? It might have been someone asking for directions or a homeless person asking for change. It might have been someone in line at the checkout who for some reason tried to start up a conversation with you. Strangers can make us feel uncomfortable and suspicious. Our guard goes up because we are unsure what they might want from us. Most of the time, we prefer to be left alone.

That is the situation that Jesus and his disciples find themselves in in today’s gospel. They are outside the land of Israel in the pagan territories of Tyre and Sidon. As foreigners in a strange land, they would just as soon not have any attention drawn to them. If they had been in a car, they would have rolled up the windows and made their way straight to the next highway exit back to Galilee.

Then a pagan woman appears yelling out to them, asking Jesus to relieve her daughter of the demon that is tormenting her. They feel embarrassed and irritated. Trying to ignore her, they walk away as fast as they can. But she refuses to go away and only cries out the louder. Finally, Jesus is forced to speak with her.

What does He find? Is she just an ignorant, pagan woman? Does she have no idea to whom she is speaking or what she is asking for? On the contrary, Jesus finds in her a mother who is desperate to have someone help her afflicted daughter. And most of all, He finds a woman of great faith.

Jesus and His disciples took the time to speak with this foreigner, and they were deeply moved by what they found. They were so moved, in fact, that they have handed the story down to us over the centuries as an example of faith.

It is easy for us to write people off, especially those who are different than we are. We do not believe that we could ever learn anything from them. But every person - the stranger, the immigrant, the homeless - is made in the image and likeness of God. Each person is unique and loved personally by our Heavenly Father. Each person is endowed by God with gifts for a mission that only he or she can accomplish. And it could be that that person’s mission is to touch our hearts and teach us something about faith and love.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta often said that the poor are merely Christ appearing to us in a distressing disguise. Like the pagan woman in the gospel, God very often chooses to reveal Himself to us in the most unlikely of persons. That is why we have to be prepared to see the face of Christ in everyone. Jesus made it very clear to us that we will be judged on how we treat the least of His brothers and sisters.

Another point for us to consider is that everyone who is part of our life is there for a reason. Whether it is a lifelong friend, a family member or someone we just happen to bump into at a store, God meant for us to have some contact with them for a reason that only He knows. Some people are in our lives to be our friends, to laugh and cry with us and to support us. Those family and friends are great blessings to us.

But there are also people sent to us by God to teach us other lessons. They are the people who get under our skin and irritate us. They are the ones who just always seem to be saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. We would just as soon avoid them at all costs. However, God placed them in our lives to teach us lessons that our family and friends could not teach us. From them, we learn to be patient and to forgive. By listening to them and going out of our way to be friendly with them, we might learn that underneath their gruff exterior is a lonely heart and a needy soul. Our caring presence to them might be just what they need to find some relief from the demons that torment them. We also might find ourselves being touched by their faith and their insights into God.

Jesus never judged people by their appearances. He looked straight into a person’s soul. Whether they were a tax collector or Pharisee, Jew or foreigner, He spoke directly to their heart. Jesus loved without exception and without distinction. That is the way He loves each of us. And that is the way He commands us to love one another. If we are to do that, then we must be transformed through grace into the likeness of Jesus. We must have His eyes to see through the exterior appearances into the interior heart. We must have His ears to hear the pain and frustration that so often lie behind hurtful words. We must have His heart to truly care for those in need no matter how unappealing they may be or how much they might inconvenience us.

That is why we are gathered here today, to learn from the Master. The faith, hope and love we need are His to give us. He teaches it to us through His word. And He unites us to Himself through the miracle of the Eucharist which we are about to share. Here and now we can exchange our hurting, selfish hearts for loving hearts. Recognizing Him in the Body and Blood which is given to us, we can then recognize Him in the needy people He places in our path.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Syro-Phoenician Woman

When it comes to what's best for their children, mothers never take "no" for an answer.

A case in point is today's gospel. The Canaanite woman is literally begging Jesus to cure her daughter who is tormented by a demon. Though the gospel doesn't tell us anything else about the girl's affliction, we can imagine that she was in a great deal of pain.

Though Jesus appears to be ignoring her, she persists in begging for him to help her. It gets to the point where the disciples are starting to get annoyed and want Jesus to tell her to leave them alone.

After talking to the woman, Jesus surprisingly refuses to help her because she is not Jewish. But, she will still not give up until Jesus, recognizing her faith, grants her request to relieve her daughter of her affliction. The woman's great persistence was a reflection of the depth of her faith - a depth of faith which Jesus could not ignore.

Now, it may shock us to think that Jesus would be capable of ignoring a woman in such obvious distress. It goes against the compassionate image of Jesus that we so often encounter in the gospels. Could it be that Jesus was really not going to help her? Could it be that Jesus was really willing to allow her daughter to continue suffering just because she belonged to another race and another religion than he?

On the contrary, I believe that Jesus pretended to ignore the woman to teach a lesson to his disciples who were with him that day and to us who hear this gospel proclaimed today. Jesus must have sensed the woman's distress and seen the faith in her heart. Jesus somehow knew she wouldn't take "no" for an answer and that she wouldn't give up. By forcing the woman to pursue him, he wanted to teach us about the need to persevere in prayer, to not give up even though it seems that our prayers will never be answered and our needs will never be met.

The history of the Church is full of stories of mothers who, like the woman in the gospel, persevered in praying for their children over many years. One of the most moving stories is that of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine, though a bright young man, lived many years of his life without direction. He was seeking happiness and peace, but didn't know where to find it. His mother, Monica, prayed for him consistently as he looked into different philosophies and different ways of life all looking for the joy and peace his mother knew he would only find through faith in Jesus. Eventually, after many years of intercession, Monica finally saw her prayers answered when Augustine embraced the gift of faith and turned his life over to Jesus. He was ordained a bishop and became known for his powerful sermons and writings, becoming one of the Church's greatest saints.

The prayer of mothers is very powerful indeed, because it is motivated by deep love and faith. Many of us can point to the prayers and examples of our own mothers and grandmothers as reasons why we came to take our faith seriously. And, I can attest that mothers are in this church daily on their knees in prayer for their children who may be having difficulties in school, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, having difficulties in their marriage or struggling with illness. Thankfully, mothers never give up in their prayers for us and for the world.

This past week, we celebrated the feast of the great Mother of the Church, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Like a good mother, she never ceases to bring our prayers to her son for us. No matter what we may need and no matter how long it may take, a devotion to the Mother of God assures us that Jesus will hear and answer our prayers.

Our families, our Church and our world have many needs. There is much pain and suffering everywhere we look. With the love and faith we find in our mothers, we must never give up in bringing our prayers to Jesus. If Jesus delays in answering us, then we must pray even harder. Jesus hears us, and Jesus sees the faith in our hearts. Jesus will answer eventually if we do not let up. We can be especially assured that he will answer if we enlist his mother, Mary, as our ally.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blessed Among Women

The “Hail Mary” is one of the best known prayers for Christians. Like the “Our Father”, it is taken mostly from the Bible. The opening lines, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you,” is taken from Gabriel’s greeting to Our Lady when he announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

The words which follow, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” are taken from the greeting which her cousin Elizabeth gave her when Our Lady visited her upon learning that she was pregnant with John the Baptist.

Mary is blessed among all women because she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. She was blessed to carry Him within her, to love Him as her own child and to accompany Him throughout His life right up to His death on the cross. In fact, Mary will say of herself in her great song of joy, “The Magnificat”, that “all generations will call her blessed. We honor our Lady as the “Blessed Virgin Mary” because of the unique role she played in the life of Jesus and, therefore, in our salvation as believers in her Son.

Had it not been for her willingness to say “yes” to God’s plan to bring the Savior into the world through her, Jesus would not have been born. Mary willingly participated in God’s plan though it meant sacrificing her own plans for the future. Because of this, we honor Mary not only as the mother of our Saviour but as our mother also in faith. Just as we would not have life without the sacrifice of our own earthly mothers, so we would not have eternal life without the sacrifice of our spiritual mother, Mary.

Mary is “blessed among women” not only because she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah but also because she lived a holy and virtuous life herself. She was a disciple of the one she cared for. Not only did she feed Him when He was hungry, but she fed on every word He said. Not only did she bathe Him at night, but she was cleansed by following His teaching. Not only did she support Him as He traveled the countryside preaching the good news, but she was supported by the great signs of healing He performed. Finally, she remained faithful to Him until the end, standing at the foot of the cross, taking part in the most horrific event any mother has ever endured - the crucifixion of her Son. Mary is “blessed among all women” because she heard God’s word through her Son and lived it.

Because of her faithfulness to her until the end, Jesus shared with His mother the victory He earned over death. Just as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, so He raised His mother up, body and soul, into the glory of His eternal Kingdom. Could you imagine a son who, suddenly coming on a fortune, would not share it with his mother? Could you imagine him not building a new house for her and providing for her just as she had provided for him? Just so, Jesus honored His mother by sharing His victory over death with her and by crowning her as queen of His heavenly Kingdom.

This is the feast we celebrate today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. It is the fitting conclusion of a life marked by faithful service to the Son of God. Mary was blessed to love and serve Jesus throughout her life. Now, in death, she is blessed to enjoy the fruits of the salvation He came to bring. After Jesus, she is the first to share in all the joys of heavenly life not only in her soul but in her body as well. Because she was faithful to God, God remained faithful to her crowning her with everlasting life and glorifying her body.

In heaven, Our Lady continues to serve her Son by praying for us, His people. Like a good mother, she brings our needs to her Son. She has not forgotten us who strive to follow her Son under the burdens of this earthly life. In all our needs, we can turn to her because she knows what it is like to struggle, she knows what it is like to go without and she knows what it is like to suffer. In Mary, we literally have “a friend in high places” who will never forget us and will pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Mary is “blessed among all women” but we are also blessed because we have come to believe in her Son and strive to keep His word in all we do. With the help of Our Lady’s prayers, we can be confident that we will continue to grow in grace until we too are called to share in Jesus’ victory over sin and death and take our place in the Heavenly Kingdom praising God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit forever with Mary and all the saints in glory.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Have you ever heard God speak to you? Have you ever had a thought pop into your head or a feeling move your heart so intensely that you knew it could only have come from God? Have you ever seen your prayers answered? Have you ever felt yourself wrapped in your Heavenly Father’s loving embrace?

If any of us have answered “no” to these questions, there is probably one good reason why. We most likely do not have enough quiet time in our lives.

In today’s society we are surrounded by noise. We are jerked out of sleep in the morning by a radio alarm. As soon as we get out of bed, we turn the television on. In our cars, we have the radio going. Every other time, we either are scrolling through the computer, playing with our cellphones or have earphones on. Even in church before Mass when we should expect to have some quiet time, there is often needless chatter in the pews.

However, without silence, we cannot hear God speak to us. Our Heavenly Father most often does not reveal Himself in blinding visions. He does not come to us shouting and waving His arms. Most often, God speaks to us in silence, when we are quiet and when our attention is focused on Him.

This is the lesson the prophet Elijah learned in today’s first reading. He is standing on the mountain where God first appeared to Moses and gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites after they fled Egypt. Elijah was in trouble. Jezebel, the queen of Israel, wanted him killed, and he was running for his life. He knew it was the end of the road for him, and he wondered what God was going to do about it.

As the story goes on, a strong gust of wind passed by, an earthquake shook the mountain and a fire blazed up. These were the ways God had shown Himself in the past. He had appeared in the burning bush to Moses. He had led the people out of Israel in a pillar of fire. And an earthquake rocked Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were delivered to the people. But God did not choose to appear in these ways to Elijah. Instead, He spoke in a soft, gentle whisper. God was doing something new. If Elijah had been looking for some great show of power, he would have missed it altogether.

God loves each of us. And because He loves us, He wants to speak to us. He wants us to know that He is always with us. He wants us to know that He is in control and that He will provide us with all that we need. However, if we are to hear Him, we have to be quiet. We have to shut out all the noise buzzing around us and calm our minds and spirits. We have to be ready to listen.

How do we do that? A good first step would be to set aside time everyday to practice being quiet. Each of us needs a place we can go where we can be alone with God without noise and without distractions. It may mean getting up earlier in the morning or going to bed later. It may mean clearing out a room in our homes or apartments where we can settle ourselves down to focus on our Heavenly Father. Whatever it takes, for our spiritual well-being we need to give ourselves some quiet time.

If by God’s grace we are able to make time everyday to be quiet, our lives will change in amazing ways. We will experience a growing sense of God’s presence. When difficulties arise, we will have more perspective and a clearer mind to be able to deal with them. No matter how out of control circumstances may be around us, we will have a peaceful center that gives us reassurance and serenity through it all. Most importantly, we will live with a sense that God ultimately is in control of everything and, because He loves us, He will make all things work for our good.

Storms inevitably come our way. Like Elijah we may find ourselves running for our lives, or like the disciples in the gospel, we may find ourselves being tossed about by the waves. God may seem to be far away or to have abandoned us altogether. Like Peter, we may feel that we are about to drown and have come to a point where our only hope is to reach out our hand to Jesus and cry out, “Lord, save me.” But if we have a peaceful center that is nourished by quiet time and prayer, we will have confidence no matter how strong the wind is or how powerful the waves.

If we were to make quiet time for the Lord and  were to hear Him speak in His soft whisper, what would we hear? Most likely it would be the words Jesus speaks in today’s gospel, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” In fact, there are no words that Jesus speaks more often in all the gospels than, “Be not afraid.” Jesus wants to relieve our fears by reassuring us that He is by our side. The One who calmed the raging sea, who revealed Himself in fire on Mount Sinai and who conquered death is in control. Though He is hidden from our sight, He is still by our side. And He will save us if we cry out to Him. If we make time to be quiet in His presence every day, then our ears will be opened to hear Him speak and our eyes will witness His actions in our lives.

Monday, August 11, 2014

God is Greater!

A woman was widowed at a young age and left with three young children to raise. As you can imagine, she struggled through many long days and lonely nights worrying about how she would pay her bills and build character in her children. Sympathizing with her, a friend gave her a magnet for her refrigerator which simply said, "God is greater than..." After the "than", there was a blank line to fill in. So, for instance, God is greater than my bills. God is greater than my worries. God is greater than my boss. She kept the magnet on her refrigerator as a reminder that, no matter what she might be experiencing, God was in control. The God who loved her was greater than whatever challenge she might be facing.

In today's gospel, Jesus shows that he is greater than the powers of nature. The disciples were being tossed about the Sea of Galilee by strong waves and head winds. Despite the chaos and obvious danger, Jesus comes to them walking on the water. He shows himself to have power over nature even at the height of its fury by calming the sea and its waves. The display of majesty and power leaves no doubt in the minds of the disciples that Jesus is the Son of God.

Throughout the Scriptures, the sea symbolizes chaos and nature's power to destroy. We see it dramatically in the story of Noah as the flood waters rise to destroy all life on the earth. The prophet Jonah likewise encounters rough seas when he tries to flee the Lord's command that he preach repentance to the city of Nineveh. It is only when he stops running away from the Lord and is tossed into the raging sea that the waters calm down.

But, the seas can also be the place where God's saving power is manifest. For instance, as the Hebrews are fleeing the Egyptian army, the Red Sea parts for them allowing them to cross to safety. And, at the end of the forty year pilgrimage in the desert, it is the waters of the Jordan River which welcome them into the promised land flowing with milk and honey.

So, the sea represents both the fury and chaos of nature as well as the place where God shows himself to be Master and Savior.

In our everyday lives, the same is true. It is precisely where there is chaos in our lives, where there is confusion, where we are struggling that God shows his power in our lives. God shows himself to be greater than any pain we may be suffering. God shows himself to be master over our lives and over our world.

How do we come to know this power of God at work in our lives? Very simply, we have to begin by thanking God for our difficulties and for our struggles. That's right! We have to thank God for the chaos and confusion in our day-to-day lives. When we stop complaining and start thanking God we begin to realize that God has a plan for our life and that God can use our problems to make us grow in holiness. By praising God, we proclaim our faith that God is the master of our lives and that God is greater than our trials and tribulations. And, we grow in the assurance that God will never allow us to be submerged by the waters, but even when we fail as Peter did, he will be there to reach out a hand to us. By thanking God, we don't trivialize our pain and suffering, rather we maximize our experience of God's power at work in us.

Peter was doing a fine job of walking on the water. He only got into trouble because he took his eyes off Jesus and starting worrying about the wind and the waves. In that moment, Peter forgot that Jesus was greater than the sea and greater than the power of nature. As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, no matter how daunting or how difficult our lives may become, we will be fine. We can be assured of this because the God who holds the whole world in his hands cares for us even more than we care for ourselves. He will pull us to safety soon.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Fish" or "Fishes"?

Do you know of any instance in which Jesus turned someone away?

Throughout the gospels, Jesus gives of Himself to all those who approach Him in faith. Whether they need a healing, whether they have a question or even when they are trying to test Him, whoever approaches Jesus with a need gets His full attention.

Today’s gospel is no different. Jesus is greeted on the shore by over five thousand people. For the small villages that surrounded the Sea of Galilee, this would have been a record crowd. Jesus and his disciples had probably never seen a multitude that large in all their lives. What does Saint Matthew tell us? Is Jesus overwhelmed by so many people? Is He irritated that they have intruded on His plans to get away to a deserted place for some rest? Does He tell them to come back on another day or to make an appointment with Him? No. He looks on them and has pity on them. His Sacred Heart is so full of love and mercy for every person that He cannot but meet whatever need is brought to Him in faith. He cures their sickness, speaks to them of the love of the Heavenly Father and even performs a miracle to make sure they do not leave hungry.

The past few Sundays we have been meditating over many of Jesus’ parables. We read the parable of the seed and the sower in which Jesus teaches us that those who receive His word in faith bear abundant fruit. We read the parable of the weeds and the wheat in which we learn that God shows love and mercy on both the good and the evil. And we read the parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in the field through which Jesus taught us that no earthly possession can compare to the riches of grace that God offers us. All these parables and many others that Jesus spoke are meant to reveal to us the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. They are meant to show us what our world will be like when God finally has established His rule over all the earth. They reveal to us what we can expect when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

If the parables teach us what God’s Kingdom will be like, the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish show us what the Kingdom will be like. In God’s Kingdom, every need will be met. There will be no more sickness, no more disease, no more death. In the Kingdom of Heaven, God Himself will teach us. And it will be a time of plenty when there will be enough for everyone, when no one will go hungry and no one will worry about how to provide for his family. Jesus was showing the people that the Kingdom of Heaven He preached about was not just a future reality waiting for them after they died. Rather it was a power already at work in the world which had its most beautiful expression in Jesus Himself.

The power, love and mercy that Jesus revealed on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to the multitudes that gathered to meet Him is still available to us who gather here today. Like those five thousand men and their families, we come to this place with many needs. Some of us need healing. Some of us have unanswered questions. Many of us seek a simple reminder that God is with us and that He loves us. We have looked in other places and have been turned away. What we are looking for was not there. But in this place we find the love our hearts are longing for and the mercy our souls desire. Here we find Jesus.

Today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks beautifully of God’s power to meet our needs. Our Heavenly Father appeals to us to come to Him. Come you who are thirsty. Come without money. Come no matter what you need. Come to God who is the source of every good thing. God can never fail us, and He will never turn us away. Whatever it is that we think is lacking in our lives, whatever makes our heart ache, whatever worries keep us awake at night, God has the answer and the cure. We simply need to come to Him, open our arms and wait to receive it.

We are privileged today to be able to gather in the presence of our Risen Lord. He is here among us. We cannot see Him, but His presence is real. He has the power to read our hearts, to see our need and to touch us with His healing love. We need only open our hearts and welcome him. He will do the rest. It may take time, it might not happen in just the way we expect, but He will not let us down. Saint Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus. That love is poured out on us in abundance each day to renew us, strengthen us and sanctify us.

We are privileged today not only to be in the presence of our Risen Lord, but to be fed by Him. We will witness a miracle no less astounding than the one the crowd witnessed at the multiplication of the loaves and fish. We will witness simple bread become the very Body of Christ. Jesus Himself will give us His Body to nourish our souls. There is no greater gift in all the world. There is nothing that can compare to it. God has come down to earth to feed me and you. Our deepest need is met, what we long for is provided to us and we will never be the same.