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? 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Our Day-To-Day Jesus

The gospels present us with a powerful image of Jesus. He proves that He is God by performing great miracles. He feeds five thousand men with only a few barley loaves and fish. He calms the storm over the Sea of Galilee with a word from His mouth and walks on the water. At His command, demons are cast out and the sick are cured. Along with His mighty works, His teaching captivates those who hear it so that crowds of people come out to listen to Him. Most of those who witnessed all that Jesus said and did had no doubt that someone greater than a prophet was among them.

At the same time, the gospels recount to us only a small portion of Jesus’ life. It amounts to three years in the life of a thirty-three year old man. About ninety percent of His life was spent in the tiny village of Nazareth in Galilee.

At the time that Jesus lived there, Nazareth was home to about five hundred people. They were a mix of Jews and pagans living and working together. Because it was such a small town, it would have been very poor and everyone would have known each other very well.

We can tell from the gospels that Jesus lived a very simple life in Nazareth. He lived with Mary and Joseph, worked as a carpenter and would have attended the synagogue with his fellow Jews. There was nothing about Jesus that would have made Him stand out from others. That is why, when He finally returns to Nazareth to preach the word of God and heal, He is met with such resistance. You can just hear them saying to Jesus, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than we are? We know you.” It must have been very painful for Him to experience so much rejection from the people He knew the best.

However, the fact that we hear so little about those hidden years in Nazareth does not mean that they are not important. It was during those years that Jesus grew in wisdom and strength. During those years, He studied the Scriptures and prayed. During those years He learned what it meant to serve God. In quiet and hidden ways, He was growing into the man who would both change and save the world.

When we reflect on our faith, it is natural for us to focus on the extraordinary. We think about all the great miracles that have taken place through the centuries. We ponder all the holy lives lived by so many saints. We consider the accomplishments of women and men of faith who built hospitals, founded schools, wrote influential books and served the needy with courage. However, like the life of Jesus, those heroic acts and miraculous occurrences are really only a small part of what it is to live the Christian life. Most of our life of faith is lived in small and hidden ways much like the years that Jesus lived in obscurity in Nazareth.

Consider the great saints - Saint Francis, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Paul, Saint Catherine of Siena and so many others. We have heard the stories of the great things they were able to accomplish through their faith. However, most of their lives were not spent doing great things. Instead for many years they simply lived their faith in quiet ways, praying, doing good for the needy, growing in the virtues of patience and perseverance. So when the time came for them to be called upon to do great things, they were ready to do God’s will. During the ordinary seasons of their lives, they were laying a foundation through prayer and good works upon which God could build something beautiful.

The same is true for us. Most of us will not stand out or accomplish anything great. Instead we are called to live our faith daily by simple acts of charity and service to our neighbor. However, this is not to say that those works are insignificant. Not at all. It is all part of God’s work to bring His Kingdom to earth. If Christians were not faithful in small ways, so much of God’s work could not go on. If we are waiting to do something great, if we are expecting the extraordinary to take place, then we will be missing out on all the ordinary blessings that God has prepared for us today. We would be like the people of Nazareth who could not witness Jesus’ miracles because they could not get over that such an ordinary man as He could do such great things.

We gather here today to do something very ordinary - something we do every week and every day. We will take simple bread and wine, invoke the Holy Spirit upon it and share it. It is nothing that we have not seen done before perhaps hundreds of times. Though it appears to be very ordinary, it is anything but. Here the greatest miracle of all takes place. The God of Heaven, the Lord of all, will become really present to us. We will see Him, touch Him and consume Him. In His humility, God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. Today, He takes on flesh under the appearance of bread so that we can receive Him in the simplest, most ordinary way possible. Through this great sacrament, we can learn to look for God not only in the extraordinary and the miraculous, but in the ordinary, everyday events of life. Then we will realize that our whole world is charged with and transformed by the presence of God.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Speaking Up

One of our most primitive human needs is to feel accepted by our peers. From our earliest years we feel the need to measure up to what society expects of us. In fact, psychologists tell us that children fear being rejected and ridiculed by their peers even more than they fear their own death or the death of their parents. Whether we admit it or not, the need to fit in colors many of the choices we make including what clothes we wear, what job we choose and even whom we decide to marry. Society uses our fear of rejection to induce us to accept its rules and values.

On the other hand, we are a people who have come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way. Our lives are guided not by society's values but by the word of God. Alive with the Spirit of God which was given us at our baptism, we reject much of what the culture around us holds up as good and valuable so that we can follow Christ. At the same time, we have to live and work among people who are not yet convinced of the power of God's love and the truth of his word. Because we have one foot in the world and the other foot in the Kingdom of God, there are times when we are confronted with a co-worker who ridicules a teaching of the Church or a friend who questions why we no longer want to gossip.

When we have the opportunity to witness to and defend our faith, do we let our fear of rejection silence us or, in the Spirit, do we stand up for the beliefs we hold dear? It is a question that all Christians who seek to live their faith with integrity must ask themselves. It is a question that all those who have come to accept the word of God have been faced with throughout the centuries. And as always, the Scriptures give us insight and inspiration in dealing with this question in our own lives.

The first reading is taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived in a time when the people of Israel were tempted to worship the idols of other nations. They saw the political power and great prosperity of the nations around them and wondered whether by worshiping the gods of those peoples they too could become mighty. It was at that time that the Babylonians invaded Israel, destroyed much of Jerusalem and took thousands of Israelites into exile in what is now Iraq. The people were under great pressure to accept the pagan values of the Babylonian society that surrounded them. But God sent the prophet Ezekiel to speak his word that they should remain faithful to the Lord and to his commandments. God warned Ezekiel that his message would be rejected by many, yet he should continue to proclaim the word with boldness. The confidence of the prophet would come because he understood that it was not his own message he was delivering but God's. Ezekiel understood that it was not him they were rejecting but God himself. Though Ezekiel was killed for preaching God's word, the people did recognize that a prophet had been among them as God said, and his words continue to be proclaimed throughout the world today. 

The prophet Ezekiel teaches us to be bold in witnessing to and defending our faith because it comes from God himself. It is not our opinion, but the truth of God which has been passed down through the centuries. And that truth endures forever. Societies and their values come and go, but the truth of the gospel message remains the same. Only historians of the ancient near east could tell us about the gods and values of the Babylonian society which seemed so powerful in Ezekiel's day. They did not last. But we know what Ezekiel taught, and we draw inspiration and courage from it to this day. In the same way, the values of the society around us - the lack of respect for human life, the blind pursuit of wealth and pleasure, the worship of celebrities - will not last. We have been entrusted with something that has stood the test of time - the gospel of Jesus Christ - and we must be bold in proclaiming it and living it even if it means being rejected and ridiculed by our family, friends and neighbors.

If the prophet Ezekiel teaches us to be bold in proclaiming the truths of our faith, Saint Paul teaches us to be humble. No one besides Jesus himself had as much success spreading the good news as Saint Paul did. Yet he knew his share of failure, persecution and suffering because of the gospel. Nonetheless, as we see in the second reading, he accepted the failures along with the successes to make it clear that it was God at work in him.

Most of us would admit that what often keeps us from witnessing to our faith is not just our fear of rejection but our fear of failure. We worry that we do not know enough to counter another person's argument or to convince others about the truths of the faith. But faith is a gift from God. Only God can change the human heart and enlighten the mind to receive it. If God places someone in our lives we must believe that he will use us somehow to plant a seed of faith. When it looks as though we are failing, God very likely is hard at work. We may never know what effect we may have on a person by witnessing to our experience of Jesus. But if we choose faith over fear and speak up with boldness and humility about Jesus to others, God will make something incredible happen.

Jesus faced rejection and ridicule from the people he cared about most, his family and friends. If we want to follow him, we can expect the same. But we are not alone. There is a community of the faithful - the Church - which is always there to support us and welcome us even when the world rejects us. The Church is our real home where we encounter Jesus and celebrate the mysteries of our faith. Until we reach our eternal home in heaven, let us ask the Father to give us the boldness and humility to witness to his word both when it is convenient and when it is difficult so that all people can receive the gift of faith which we hold so dear. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jesus Is Our Hope

Have you ever felt desperate and hopeless? Have you ever been faced with a situation in which you had no idea what to do? Have you ever reached a point at which you had exhausted all your options and had no one left to turn to for help? Have you ever felt utterly alone and abandoned?

If so, you will be able to identify with the two people whom Jesus encounters in today’s gospel.

The first is Jairus. He is a powerful and influential synagogue official. However, he finds himself powerless when his daughter becomes sick. All his money, power and connections are unable to make his daughter well. There is no doubt that he provided her with the best doctors and treatments available at the time. However, there was nothing more that he could do. Jairus probably was like many of the other religious leaders of his day who looked down on Jesus as a trouble making preacher from a small town. As an educated man, he probably was skeptical of the miracles that Jesus was said to perform. However, when faced with the death of his daughter, he had no choice. He had exhausted all his other options. Jesus was now his only hope.

The second person we encounter in the gospel today is the unnamed woman who was suffering from a hemorrhage. Saint Mark tells us that for twelve years she bled uncontrollably. We can only imagine the physical pain she suffered. Loss of blood would have left her feeling tired and weak. Also, people would have avoided her because contact with blood made a person ritually unclean and unable to worship in the temple. She would have suffered from loneliness and from the feeling that she had been abandoned by God. Saint Mark goes on to tell us that she had used up all her savings on doctors to cure her condition but it only got worse. Then Jesus comes to her town.  He is surrounded by crowds of people who want to see Him, who also have pressing needs. She musters up all her strength to fight her way through the crowd so she can at least touch Him. She has no hope now but Jesus.

Both Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage had done all they could. However, they had run out of options and found themselves in desperate circumstances. Both had to overcome obstacles to reach Jesus. Jairus had to put aside his pride to ask Jesus for help and the woman had to put aside any embarrassment or shame she felt to work her way through the crowd. Yet both were motivated by faith that Jesus was now their only hope. And Jesus did not disappoint.

We have all experienced frustration, disappointment and desperation. We have all reached a point at which we did not know what to do next. We have all done our best only to see circumstances spin out of control. We have all faced problems which left us wondering what we could possibly do to make things better. At one point in our lives, we have all felt powerless.

Those are the times when we need to turn to Jesus. We may have to swallow our pride and acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. We may have to fight the crowd which tells us to give up. However, only Jesus offers us hope when we have hit rock bottom. Only He has the power to lift us up when we have fallen. He is the only one who loves us enough to give us exactly what we need when we need it most.

Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts can teach us something about hope. Every morning they wake up knowing that they are one bad decision away from ruining their lives. They know that they are powerless against their addictions. However, in their powerlessness they realize that they have to rely on God for strength. They have already tried relying on their own strength and willpower and have seen just how useless that is in the face of addiction.  They have no choice but to turn to God. When they do, they find the hope that had been eluding them. They are able to live without fear knowing that, though they are helpless, God will carry them through. They no longer need to fear.

None of us wants to be in a situation in which we find ourselves helpless. None of us wants to be desperate. However, it is often unavoidable. We get sick or lose our jobs. The people we love and rely on move away or die. Accidents happen,  tragedy strikes and we find ourselves overwhelmed with problems. However, the circumstances that threaten to destroy us can also turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to us if we turn to Jesus. Jairus did not want his daughter to get sick and die, but is there any doubt that the most wonderful moment of his life was seeing Jesus raise his little girl from the dead? The woman with the hemorrhage must have asked God thousands of time why she had to suffer such an embarrassing ailment, but is there any doubt that her encounter with Jesus made all the frustration and pain worth it?

The same will be true for us if we turn to Jesus and entrust our lives to Him. Great things will happen. We may not experience the great miracles that Jairus and the woman did. However, we will find joy and peace in the midst of our difficulties. We will no longer feel desperate and powerless but will see circumstances around us begin to change. It could be that we provide inspiration to others in their struggles. Whatever may happen, we will find ourselves drawing strength from Jesus everyday, relying on His light in our darkness and trusting Him to lead us when we cannot find a way forward. That is the promise He makes to us if we will simply trust Him with our lives. No matter what may happen, He will not disappoint us.