Sunday, August 30, 2015

Renewal From Within

In the late sixties, when tensions broke out between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Mark Lenaghan’s family found themselves in the middle of it. Though they were not politically active, they were a Catholic family in a mostly Protestant neighborhood. Though they had always gotten on well with their neighbors, their home became the target of vandalism. One day, a group of thugs stormed through their front door and took over their home for several days. It was the last straw. They had to abandon their home and move to a less violent neighborhood.

However, Mark never forgot the feelings of helplessness and rage he experienced while living in his old neighborhood. He became convinced that the only way to set things right in his country was through violence. So he joined the Irish Republican Army, commonly known as the IRA. They were committed to bringing about total independence for Ireland from England by violent means.

During his training, he was taught that before you can kill a man with a gun or a bomb, you have to kill him within your heart. Before you can pull a trigger, you must have already found it within you to hate and to want to destroy someone else. Violence comes not just from fists, guns and bombs, but from the human heart.

Eventually, through God’s grace, he came to see that violence was not the solution to his country’s problems and learned to forgive those who had hurt him and his family and to seek reconciliation. He came to realize that the conflicts in his country came not just from the political structures but from the human heart. Every person was free to make the choice to forgive or to seethe with rage. Everyone was free to be reconciled with the one who hurts him or to get even. When each person forgives from his or her heart, there would be peace.

Jesus has the same message in today’s gospel regarding the human heart. While the Pharisees are concerned with outward appearances and actions, He teaches His disciples that religion is primarily an affair of the heart. It is not what we let into our body that defiles us but what we let into our soul. If our minds are filled with thoughts of love, peace and kindness, we will be loving, peaceful and kind people. But if our heart is seething with resentment, bitterness and hatred, we will be resentful, bitter and hateful people. No amount of ritual will do us any good if we are not willing to embrace the goodness, truth and beauty that Jesus came to bring.

At the root of all society’s ills is not just inadequate laws or incompetent institutions. The real problems are hearts that are unwilling to love. We have seen this so clearly in our own society. Though we have laws to regulate financial institutions, greedy people find ways around those regulations in order to make unjust profits. Though we have laws to protect consumers from deceitful practices, unjust people always find a loophole to exploit. No law can change someone from a greedy person into a generous person. No institution can change a bigot into someone capable of loving all people without distinction. Each one of us is free to either embrace love or reject it. Each of us is free to either accept truth or deny it.

Does that mean that we should give up trying to reform our political institutions or work to end violence and discrimination? Of course not. What it does mean is that the problem is not just out there somewhere. The problem is not just with other people. The problem is within me. The problem is in my heart. Until my heart changes, the world cannot change. Until I embrace forgiveness, there can be no peace.

If each of us were to take a long, hard look at our hearts, we would all admit that there is a mixture of love and hate, tenderness and resentment, courage and fear within. How can we begin to change our heart? By welcoming Jesus there. He sees us as we really are. He can look within our hearts and see what needs changing. And through His Holy Spirit He can begin to affect real conversion and growth in holiness. It does not happen overnight and usually requires no small amount of suffering. But it can and will happen if we turn to Him and sincerely ask for His help.

The civil rights activist, Rev Martin Luther King JR, said that we cannot change others unless we love them. Knowing that we cannot love another person unless we have forgiven him or her in our heart, we can take his statement one step further. I cannot change another person unless I have changed myself.

Saint James tells us in the second reading that the pure, undefiled religion that God desires is that we care for widows and orphans. But I cannot begin to care for the needy unless I have overcome the greed in my heart that keeps me from being generous and the bigotry that makes me judge the poor.

Real change is possible. The world can be transformed through love. However, it is not somebody else’s responsibility. It is my responsibility. And it is not just bureaucracies or laws that need fixing, but my heart that needs repair. Until that happens, all our other efforts are in vain. At this Eucharist, the One who has the power to change us comes to us in the form of bread. He enters into communion with us and draws us into union with one another. Strengthened by this Eucharist, healed of our greed, bitterness and anger we can go forth to serve the needy, relieve the oppressed and right the wrong. With hearts renewed and refreshed, we can begin to see a world transformed through love.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Rejection is a fact of life for Christians. No matter how kind we are, no matter how eloquently we present the good news, no matter how sensitive we are to others’ feelings, our message will be resisted. If they cannot argue with our logic or common sense, then they will result to calling us names. We will be told that we are backward, that we are hateful bigots. Many will even go so far as to say that Jesus would not approve of our message or that we are acting more like the Pharisees than His disciples. We might even start to question ourselves, wondering whether we just have not found the right way to present the good news to our culture and whether it would be better to stay quiet, keep to ourselves and not share our beliefs with others.

However, Jesus makes it very clear that we can expect to be rejected for choosing to follow Him. No one was holier than He or better at connecting with an audience and yet He still was ridiculed and mocked for what He taught. We see this clearly in today’s gospel. When He tells the crowd that He will give them His Body and Blood as food, they are shocked and disgusted. Many of His own disciples turn their backs on Him.

If there were newspapers in Jesus’ day, imagine what the headlines would have been. They would have said that Jesus had a meltdown or that He had lost His mind. They would have claimed that He was out of touch with Jewish society and culture. They would have speculated that the Jesus movement was in crisis and that many others would soon see Him as a false prophet. What the world says about Christians today is no different from what people said about Jesus.

Jesus’ message is demanding. It requires that we radically change the way we look at life and at the world. It calls for sacrifice and surrender to God’s will. Because it is difficult, we may be able to understand why so many people reject it. But why do so many people still believe and still follow Jesus? Why does He continue to be the most influential person who ever lived?

Saint Peter speaks for us at the end of today’s gospel passage when he says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” We accept the difficulties entailed in living the gospel message and the ridicule and rejection that are a part of the Christian life because only Jesus has the words of everlasting life. We have not been able to find the love, joy and peace that our hearts yearn for in any other person than in Jesus Christ. Only in Him have we found the truth and meaning our minds have searched for. And we want to share that joy and truth with others even if it means being rejected by them. As we read in today’s Responsorial Psalm, we have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord and His praise shall be ever in our mouths.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have been persecuted for one reason or another. The first followers of Jesus were put to death for not worshiping the Roman gods. In the last century, many Christians were killed for resisting dictators and oppressive political systems. In our day, the persecution comes from Western culture which rejects the dignity of human persons, especially the weakest and least productive. It denies the sanctity of marriage as God created it between one man and one woman as Saint Paul so beautifully describes it for us in today’s second reading. It makes no room for immigrants and refugees except to exploit and scapegoat them. This is the world to which God has called us to bring the gospel message of love.

With all the difficulties we face, we can be tempted to turn away, to keep to ourselves and to hide. We do not want to be called names or be accused of offending anyone. However, there are many people out there who are hurting and lost. They deserve to be told the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. There are so many who are the victims of this society’s twisted ideologies. They are the children who are neglected and abandoned by their parents. They are the immigrants and refugees who live in the shadows and are subject to exploitation and crime on a daily basis. They are those who have just not been able to gain a foothold in a competitive marketplace. They deserve our love and compassion. Just as important, we need to be their voice and to tell their stories.

We also have a duty to the culture at large to show them that there is a better way. We have been entrusted with a great treasure, namely,  the truth of the gospel message as it has been handed down to the Church through the centuries. It is the only way for our world to find true and lasting justice and peace. Just as we would not deny a hungry person a morsel of food or not give a blanket to a homeless person, just so we cannot deny our world the truth about Jesus Christ and His message about the incomparable dignity of each and every human being. We have to strive with all our strength to pass that message on, even when it is rejected, in hopes that it will finally sink in and make a difference in a world that has grown tired and cynical.

The great Catholic communicator, Fulton Sheen, said it best: “The world today is tearing up the photographs of a good society, a good family, a happy, individual personal life. But the Church is keeping the negatives. And when the moment comes when the world wants a reprint, we will have them." Each of us needs to be an example of the joy and peace that comes from believing in Jesus. Each of us needs to be a light to a world that has too long been imprisoned in darkness. By doing so, we show the world that there is a better way. By doing so, we point others to Jesus who has the words of everlasting life so that they too can be convinced and join us in sharing the gospel until our world is transformed through the love of God.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Self-Sacrificing Love

What is the opposite of love? Is it hate? Is it apathy or indifference?

Pope John Paul II in his book, Love and Responsibility, has an interesting answer to the question. Unlike what we might normally think, the opposite of love is not hate or indifference. Rather, the opposite of loving others is using them.

Any of us who have had the heart-wrenching experience of having been used by another person know how true the Holy Father’s words are. Those who use us do immensely more damage than those who merely hate us. We let such people into our lives because we believed they loved us and wanted to be our friend. We trusted them and may have even shared intimate secrets with them. But when they got from us everything we could give them, they abandoned us leaving us feeling cheap and useless. We feel like fools for ever believing that they were really our friends. Going forward, we find it difficult to ever trust someone again. If they had just hated us rather than used us, they would have done far less damage to our psyches.

When we use others, we treat them as mere objects. We are saying to them that their needs and desires are not as important as our own. We are telling them that their only value lies in what they can do for us. The minute they are no longer useful to us or begin making demands of us, we drop them and move on to our next victim.

How different love is! When we love someone - whether it be a friend or a spouse - we treat him or her as a unique individual full dignity and value.  We accept them for their strengths and their weaknesses. We are by their side in good times and bad. In our concern for their well-being, we often put their needs and interests before our own. Being with them and spending time together is all that we ask. Love always seeks the good of the other even when it is difficult or painful.

Today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of the most difficult readings in all of Scripture for our modern culture to hear - “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” It seems to go against the grain of our ideas about the equal dignity and value of both women and men. Furthermore, the passage has been misused in the past to keep women in harmful and abusive relationships. However, if we read these words in the light of Pope John Paul II’s words and our reflection on the true meaning of love, Saint Paul’s teaching becomes clearer to us.

By being subordinate to each other - by putting the needs and concerns of the other before our own - we make sure that we are never in a position to use the other person. Our submission in love to one another - both the wife for the husband and the husband toward the wife - ensures that we are not in a relationship only to benefit ourselves - to get what we want out of the other person - but that we are really seeking his or her good even when it means sacrifice on our part.

We should also remember that Saint Paul’s words are directed not only to the wife but to the husband: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In fact, his words are even stronger for husbands. While he tells wives that they should be subordinate to their husbands, he tells husbands that they should love their wives as Christ loved the Church. And how did Christ love the Church? He died for it. Just so, men should be willing to lay down their lives for their wives.

What does that mean in practical terms? It means taking the time to listen even if it means turning off the TV. It means emptying the dishwasher without being asked or not groaning when the wife points out repairs that are needed in the house. It means going out when we feel like just staying in. Men are often tempted not to do such things because they seem small and insignificant. But to women, these small actions show that we are paying attention to them and attending to their needs.

Though Saint Paul’s words are directed to married couples, they still hold meaning for those of us who may not be married or who are not planning on getting married. In all our relationships we should be practicing love and avoiding using others. By so doing, we imitate Jesus who gave His life up for us. If we can put the needs and concerns of our family members and friends ahead of our own now, it will come more naturally to us later on if we do get married.

We are naturally selfish people. It is not easy for us to put others first. That is where Jesus comes in. He gives us the strength to forget ourselves in service to others through the inspiration of His word and by His Body which He offers to nourish us. When the needs of our loved ones become difficult to bear, when we are tempted to abandon them, we should first turn to Jesus in prayer and ask Him for the strength to carry on. He will not fail to give it to us because, like a good friend, He always puts our needs and concerns ahead of His own.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Because We Need Him

There is an ache and a restlessness that haunts us throughout our lives. We can reach a certain degree of happiness and fulfillment, but there will always be something missing from it. We always want to be more and to do more. The widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs, the breakdown of marriages and the aimlessness of so many young people testify to the fact that people everywhere are groping for more in life but do not know where to find it.

As Christians, we interpret this restlessness as our desire for God. We believe that when God created us he ripped a hole in our soul that only he could sew back up. He left an emptiness within us that only he could fill. We also know that during our lifetime this emptiness will never be filled until we are with God in our heavenly homeland. In fact, one of the reasons why religious women, brothers and priests do not get married is so that they can stand as signs of the truth that we cannot find total fulfillment in our earthly lives.

The Bible describes this emptiness as a hunger and uses many images of food and of meals to show how God alone can satisfy that hunger. In the first reading, Wisdom is pictured as a woman preparing a banquet for all those tired of seeking happiness in foolish pursuits. The psalm response, "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord", speaks of God's beauty and goodness in terms of delicious foods. Though the second reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians does not talk specifically about food, he hints at the same idea. When he warns us not to get drunk on wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit, he is saying in effect, "Do not turn to alcohol to cure your loneliness but turn to the Spirit who alone is capable of filling that emptiness." Finally, in the gospel reading, Jesus calls himself "the living bread come down from heaven." He is the one sent by God to fill up this hunger we all suffer from. He tells us that his flesh is "real food" and his blood "real drink" meaning that it alone can really satisfy that emptiness that God left within us.

The Scriptures also use the image of food to describe our relationship with God because it is so vital to our lives. Just as we cannot live without food, so we cannot live with God. Just as our body requires bread to sustain it, so our souls require God to nourish the gift of eternal life.

This theme is also weaved throughout today's gospel. Jesus promises that whoever eats the bread of life - a bread which is his very body - will never suffer death. That is quite a claim to make! No wonder the crowd listening to Jesus found it hard to understand and accept. Could anyone seriously offer a cure for death, a promise of immortality? Could anyone offer an escape from what we fear most? But that is exactly the bold claim that Jesus is making: "Whoever eats this bread will live forever."

What is the eternal life Jesus promises us who eat his body and blood? What is this life that even survives death? It cannot be a human life because human life does not last forever. If it is eternal and comes from Jesus, it must be God's life, a divine life already living in us, already at work within us who have believed in his only Son and received his Body and Blood. For that reason, we can make the claim that we are God's dear children. Sons and daughters receive life from their parents. They have their parents' blood running in their veins. Just so, we are God's sons and daughters because we have the life of our heavenly Father living within us.

Besides the gift of life, children also receive many of their characteristics from their parents. They look like them, have many of their same talents and often act similarly. Just so, we who are the children of God, who have received eternal life through him, are to be imitators of God. We are to be people who follow the way of love that Jesus followed. The eternal life we receive from the Father manifests itself when we choose love rather than hate. When we have been hurt we do not seek revenge but to forgive. Following Jesus' way of love means that a man and a woman wait until they are in the committed relationship of marriage before making love rather than risk using the other as an object. To love as Jesus loved means we give to those around us the attention and care we would like others to show to us. We know that Jesus is truly living within us and that God's life is really at work in us when everything we say and do is marked by love.

We come to Jesus at this Mass today simply because we need him. Nothing else can satisfy the deepest craving of our heart for the love and life of God the Father which only Jesus can bring us.  Our heavenly Father has prepared a banquet for us, the Body and Blood of his Son, given to us out of love. And yet it is not enough for us to receive that love. We must also give it away to all those we meet. As God has fed us, so we are to feed others. Then the love and the life of God can take root in our hearts, and we can know the great joy that our hearts were created to contain.

(this article originally appeared in Connect! magazine)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Miracle of Jesus' True Presence

Over twelve hundred years ago, in the small Italian town of Lanciano, a monk was celebrating Mass in the parish of Saint Legontian. Having been a priest several years, he was beginning to struggle in his faith. Especially difficult for him was the Church’s teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Does the bread and wine offered at Mass really become the Body and Blood of the Son of God? How is this possible? Is it not more reasonable to believe that they are only symbols?

With this doubt in his heart, he prepared the gifts on the altar and began to recite the Eucharistic prayer. As he repeated Jesus’ words, “This is my body...This is my blood.” something miraculous happened. The bread which he held in his hands turned into real human flesh and the wine turned into real blood in the chalice.

News of the miracle spread throughout the world. When the pope learned of it, he instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ which we continue to celebrate every summer, two weeks after the feast of Pentecost.

The flesh and blood which appeared on the altar that day over twelve hundred years ago are still visible in that church in Lanciano. Although over twelve centuries have passed, the flesh and blood have not decayed. They are as fresh as the day they miraculously appeared.

Over the years, the flesh and blood have been tested by scientists the most recent being in 1971. Two professors from the University of Siena examined them and found that the flesh was human heart tissue and the blood was also human with the same blood type as the flesh. Both the heart tissue and the blood were determined to be as fresh as they would have been had they been just recently taken from a human body. After examining the chemical structure, they found no traces of preservatives such as formaldehyde to explain why the heart tissue and blood had no signs of decomposition. Finally, they concluded that there was no scientific explanation for the events that took place in Lanciano.  Their findings were published in one of Italy’s foremost journals of medicine.

The miracle at Lanciano is only one of many eucharistic miracles that Jesus offers us to strengthen our faith in His real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. However, the fact is that a true miracle takes place every day on altars all over the world - simple bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God .

When we receive the Eucharist, we are truly receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not just a symbol. It is not just a way of remembering all He did to save us. Rather it is the source and summit of our Christian life. It is our intimate union with our God and Savior. It is the promise of His real presence with His Church until the end of time.

It is very tempting for us in this age which is always looking for a scientific explanation for everything to doubt that the miracle of the Eucharist can take place. Like the monk in Lanciano, we want to reduce communion to a mere symbol and a simple remembrance of Jesus. However, that is not at all what Jesus taught. He told the apostles very plainly at the Last Supper, “This is my Body...This is my Blood.” Furthermore, none of the early Christians living in the first few centuries after Jesus’ death ever taught that the Eucharist was merely a symbol. All throughout the history of the Church, there was agreement that when we receive communion, we are receiving the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, Jesus understands that this is a difficult teaching for many to grasp and comprehend. As we see in today’s gospel, in His own day many people rejected and were even repulsed by Jesus’ words that He would give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. A quarrel even broke out as He was spelling it all out for them. Rather than tell them He was only speaking symbolically, he re-emphasizes his meaning: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”

If we find ourselves struggling with doubts about this teaching, it is time to turn to Jesus in prayer. Only by faith can we come to embrace this mystery. And faith only comes as a gift through Jesus. We cannot come to such faith only by thinking things through, though that also is important. The only way to come to not only believe but love Jesus present in the Eucharist is to take time in silent meditation before the tabernacle or, even better, before our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. Sitting in His presence, this wonderful truth becomes seared into our hearts and minds. We are touched and transformed in an invisible way by His presence. Experiencing the peace that only He can give, doubt melts away and it becomes clear to us that Jesus meant what He said when He told us, “This is my Body.... This is my blood.”

Jesus promised to be with us always until the end of the world. That promise is fulfilled in the mystery of the Eucharist. We have the honor today of receiving His Body. Let us ask Him to deepen our faith in this miracle so that we may receive it worthily and be transformed in love even as He has loved us.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Feast of the Assumption

We honor the Blessed Virgin Mary above all women who have ever lived. Because she had the great honor of carrying our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ within her very body, we celebrate her life of faith with many feasts throughout the year, including today. As she says of herself, “From this day all generations will call me blessed.”

There are many, however, who question the honor we show to Mary. They wonder if it somehow takes away from the honor that is due to God alone. By acknowledging our Blessed Mother, are we offending our Heavenly Father who alone deserves all glory and praise.

A few examples should help us understand how it is that by honoring Mary we also give honor to her Son, Jesus.

Often when we look out at the created world we cannot help but marvel at the beauty of it all. When we see the majesty of the ocean or the awesome expanse of the universe, does it not lead us to give praise to the God who created it all? Does it not cause us to wonder how great the God who brought it all forth from nothing must be? Just so, when we honor Mary’s role as mother of our Saviour and the deep faith with which she lived her life, do we not also honor our Heavenly Father who created her and endowed her with so many graces?

Another helpful example is that of an artist. If I were to praise a masterful painting, would the artist be offended? If I were to go on and on about how moving a piece of sculpture is, would the one who created it say that by doing so I was ignoring her? Of course not. The painter or sculptor would take pride in my recognition of his or her masterpiece. Just so, when we recognize the beauty of our Blessed Mother we are honoring the God who made her.

Of all her wonderful qualities, the one fact of her life that we celebrate is her “yes” in participating with God in bringing forth Jesus. Without that “yes”, our Lord and Savior could not be born. Our Heavenly Father did not coerce or force Mary to be the mother of His Son. Rather He sent an angel to invite her to play such a momentous role in our salvation. In total trust in God’s plan, she put aside her own plans and dreams. Though she may never have fully understood how it would all turn out, she stood at Jesus’ side right up to His death on the cross.

Because of her faithfulness, God rewarded her with the dignity of being assumed, body and soul, into heaven. Just as she was the first to believe, just as she was the first to say “yes” and give herself fully to God’s plan, so she is the first to enjoy the crowning achievement of salvation - the resurrection of the dead. Our Heavenly Father would not allow her sinless body to lay corrupt in the grave, but raised her up and made her Queen of Heaven.

Her life serves as an example for us. We will not serve the Kingdom of God in the same way she did. However, each of us has a part to play. Each of us must say “yes” on a daily basis to God’s will. Like Mary, we will not always understand how it will all play out. But our trust and abandonment to our Heavenly Father in faith is indispensable to bringing about the salvation of the world.

This feast in particular reminds us where our hope lies. As we recite every Sunday in the Creed, “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Like Mary, we hold on to God’s promise that if we have suffered with Jesus, we will also reign with Him. The eternal life of heaven and the resurrection of our bodies awaits all of us who not only believe that Jesus is the Son of God but who stake our lives on it by living according to His teaching no matter what the cost.

We honor God, our Heavenly Father, when we reverence His most beautiful creature, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has given her to us to be our Mother, to pray for us, to serve as an example for us and to give us hope that we too will share in the eternal life she now enjoys at the throne of her Son, Jesus. As we receive the Body of Christ, the Body that Mary carried in her womb with so much love and the Body which rose from the dead to give us the hope of everlasting life, let us say “yes” together with her to the plan of God which is still unfolding in history and which will one day culminate in the victory of Christ over sin, suffering and deat

Friday, August 14, 2015

Here For Jesus

“I don’t get anything from going to Mass.”

Have you ever had anyone say this to you? Maybe your own family members, friends or children? In moments when you were feeling easily distracted or bored, have you ever wondered to yourself why you go to Mass?

What do we get from going to Mass?

The simple answer is - Jesus. At every Mass, we encounter the Risen Jesus alive and in our midst. We encounter Jesus in one another. He promised that where two or three are gathered, He would be in their midst. We encounter Him in the Scriptures which are proclaimed. Because they are the word of God, when the Bible is read at Mass it is God Himself speaking to His people. Finally, we encounter Jesus in His Body and Blood. As we are told in today’s gospel, the Eucharist is the bread that comes down from heaven to nourish us and give us eternal life.

Quite simply, if we love Jesus, we will love going to Mass. If Jesus is at the center of our life, then going to Mass will be the most important event of our week. There will be nothing else that will take precedence over it. If we call Jesus “Lord” and claim Him as our personal Savior, then we will strive to keep this appointment with Him every week.

The reality, however, is that as human beings we are easily distracted and bored. We come to church with many problems on our minds. We are often tired after a long week or are already thinking ahead to what will be waiting for us at work or at school on Monday. Instead of being focused on Jesus, we are thinking about all the errands we need to run when Mass is over. The same is true for all of us and God understands. However, at the same time, we must make an effort to put those worries and cares aside to focus on the graces that Jesus wants to offer us at Mass. Whatever we are worried about right now will come and go, but our life with Jesus in heaven will last forever.

If we had an important meeting at work or a test at school, we would make sure we prepared all week to be ready. In the same way, if we are going to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and put Him at the center of our lives, then we have to make sure we prepare all week for our encounter with Him on Sunday.

How can we do that? The first way is by taking time during the week to go over the Sunday readings. For most of us, the first time we hear the Sunday readings is when we come to Mass. Some people may take time to go over them in the Missalette before Mass starts but otherwise we come to church with no idea what the readings will be. What if we made the effort to read and pray over them during the week? What if we took ten minutes every day meditating on the word of God, asking ourselves what they mean for our lives and studying them? Then, we when come to Mass on Sunday, we will pay closer attention to the word as it is being proclaimed. We will be reminded of how we felt when we read them during the week, of the insights we received and how it challenged us to change our behavior and attitudes. We will pay more attention to the homily so that we can get even more insight into what we have read. Then, after we have left Mass, we will be more careful to put what we have heard into practice. Imagine the difference it would make in our lives if we were to allow God to mold our hearts every week by reading over and meditating on the Sunday readings.

The second way is by taking a few minutes every day to think about receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Meditating on what a great gift God gives us in the Body and Blood of His Son helps us to treasure this marvelous encounter we have with the Risen Lord every Sunday. Reflecting on His love and the gift of eternal life will make us even more eager to receive Holy Communion. When the priest says the words, “This is my Body which will be given up for you” and “This is the blood of the new covenant”, we will be focused in on Jesus truly present among us. When we approach to receive Holy Communion and the minister says, “The Body of Christ”, our “Amen” will have so much more meaning because we have been reflecting on this great gift all week long.

Finally, the best way to “get something” out of Mass is to put the graces we receive in Holy Communion to use throughout the week. Jesus gives us His Body and Blood to nourish and strengthen us to live as His disciples. We should be drawing on that nourishment and strength every day. When we face temptations, all we need to do is remember that Jesus is living within us through the mystery of the Eucharist and we will find the strength not to offend Him. When we are overwhelmed with the cares of life and don’t know what to do next, we can remember that Jesus lives within us and draw strength from Him to keep striving. By being more mindful throughout the week of the presence of Christ within us through the mystery of the Eucharist, the blessings and graces we receive at Mass will carry us through our whole week.

Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  That is exactly what we get when we come to Mass. Jesus gives us His very self so that we can have eternal life. If we are to receive and make use of this awesome gift, then we have to give something ourselves. We have to give our time throughout the week to reflect on the Scriptures that will be proclaimed and on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We also have to give our lives over to Him, to allow Him to be Lord and look only to Him to save us. Then this weekly appointment with the Risen Lord will begin to change us and nothing will be able to keep us from going to church to meet Him.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nourished By The Bread Of Life

If you and I had been alive when Jesus walked the earth, would we have believed in Him? If we had seen Him with our own eyes and heard Him speak, would we have followed Him? Would we have left behind our old ideas about religion and society to put faith in a man who claimed to be not only the Messiah but the Son of God?

These questions help us to understand some of the struggles the people of Jesus’ day faced when confronted with His preaching. He claimed not only to have unique insights into the mind of God, but He claimed to be God Himself. No wonder the people of His day had so much trouble understanding and accepting Him.

Nonetheless, many did come to believe in Jesus. Many left their jobs and families to follow Him. And after He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, many gave their lives to spread the gospel. What did they know that the religious leaders didn’t know? How were Jesus’ disciples different from the crowds that rejected Him and later called for Him to be crucified? Were they smarter or better people than those who thought Jesus was nothing more than a troublemaker?

Jesus speaks about this in today’s gospel. Believing in Him is a gift from the Father. As Jesus puts it, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him...” Those who accept Jesus’ teaching and follow Him do so because they have been given faith directly from God. It is not because they were smarter than everyone else or better people. For some mysterious reason known only to God Himself, they received a special gift of faith.

The same is true for us in our day. Why is it that the gospel message is so compelling to us? Why is it that many of us have changed our lives in sometimes radical ways to live up to the ideal of life in Christ? At the same time, we see a world with so many people who have rejected Jesus and His Church. We see so much hostility to the gospel message even among our family members and friends. Why are we different? We might be tempted to believe that we are smarter or better people than those who refuse to accept the gospel, but that would not be what Jesus taught. The simple fact is that, for some mysterious reason, we have been given the light of faith whereas others have not or have been given less light than we enjoy.

This is a very important truth for us to reflect on and consider. Faith is a gift. It is not something we have achieved or a title we have earned. It comes to us directly from the Father. Therefore, none of us can boast about it. It should not be a source of pride for us or a reason for us to have a judgmental attitude toward those who seem to lack faith. We could just as easily not have been given this gift. The only proper response for us is to humbly accept this gift and live it with the grace that comes from God.

The other truth we must consider is that, if we have been given this gift, we will be accountable to our Heavenly Father about how we have used it. Have we lived our faith in such a way that others have seen the beauty and truth of the gospel message? Have we loved others, served the poor, counseled the doubtful and guided the lost by the light we have received? Or have we kept it to ourselves? Jesus warns us that much will be expected from those to whom much has been given. We have been given the greatest treasure of all - faith in the Son of God. How are we putting that gift to use to draw others to Jesus?

It is true that we live our faith in the midst of a world that is indifferent to the gospel and often hostile to it. It is difficult to hold fast to the teaching of Jesus when so often it is called into question, ridiculed and attacked. We need to have that gift of faith nourished and refreshed if it is to withstand all the trials that will come. Like Elijah in today’s first reading who is strengthened by the cake and jug of water provided by the angel, we need a heavenly food to sustain us in our life of faith.

That nourishment comes to us through the Eucharist. As Jesus tells us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven...and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Just as our bodies require food to energize them, so our spirits need heavenly nourishment to keep them strong. It is vitally important for us to receive the Eucharist as well as the other sacraments as frequently as possible so that this gift we have received at the cost of Jesus’ death can continue to sustain us and inspire others.

Mother Angelica, the founder of the Catholic global television network, EWTN, once said, “Faith is having one foot on the ground, one in the air and a queasy feeling in your stomach.”  Following Jesus often means making sacrifices, being rejected by others and foregoing many of the pleasures that this world offers. But what we receive in return - an intimate knowledge of God’s love, friendship with Jesus and the hope of eternal life - cannot compare to anything this world can offer. What we have received as a gift, we must know give as a gift so that even more people can be drawn to Jesus by the Father and share with us the joy of faith in the Son of God who gives His flesh for the life of the world.

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.