Saturday, August 18, 2018

You are what you eat - Homily for week 20 of Ordinary Time, Cycle B


You are what you eat.   Does this quote sound familiar? It was popular in the 70’s & 80’s to reinforce eating the right foods.  The food pyramid was developed to go along with the phrase to help us understand what food led to good overall health.   The pyramid base was the healthy food and the unhealthy food, that stuff that tasted the best, was the teeny part of the top of the pyramid.  A lot of effort was spent in education and marketing this concept. Which of the foods do you think most of us ate? I know I ate to many at the top of pyramid.  Some new models now make it easier to eat better, as my dietician daughter Nicole has shown me, helping me to eat healthier and hopefully live longer. Although these food models may help in living longer, they don’t help to live forever.  Only the Eucharist can do that.

Over the last four weeks we’ve been reading from John Chapter 6.  We’ve been given the opportunity to feast on the Wisdom of the eternal God so we can grow in understanding of the life giving food of the Eucharist. It began with the miracle of the five loaves and two fish were Jesus fed thousands of people.  After this miracle people seek out Jesus for more food.   He tells them not to seek that food that perishes, but to seek food that endures for eternal life.   

In our first reading from Proverbs the stage is set for God’s invitation to the Eucharistic feast.  We hear of Wisdom providing a sumptuous feast where all are invited, including the simple and those who lack understanding, so they can advance in understanding.  St.  Paul encourages the Ephesians not continue in ignorance, but to try to understand the will of the Lord.  He describes the Eucharistic liturgy filled with the Spirit, along with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, always giving thanks for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In coming together in the Eucharist, we can grow in understanding of this great gift feeding on Jesus in Word & Sacrament.

In John’s Gospel Jesus proclaims that: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”   The Jews questioned Jesus about this, “How can this man give us flesh to eat?”  Think about how shocking sounded to the first century Jews. Jews were forbidden from eating animal flesh containing blood. He was also telling them to eat human flesh.  The original Greek word used to describe eating was not the normal way of eating a meal, but to eat as animals did, gnawing on munching.  This must have been repulsive to the Jews.

The Jew response provided Jesus an opportunity to restate his meaning.  But instead he reinforces what he just said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”, “my flesh is true food”, and “This is the bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread lives forever”.  He was not speaking in symbols or metaphors.   He was telling them to really eat and drink his flesh and blood to have eternal life.

We have the hindsight that the Jews didn’t: Jesus was speaking of the bread and wine of t
he Eucharistic meal mysteriously transformed into his flesh and blood.  We also know of the resurrected Jesus, who rose from the dead after offering his life as a sacrifice for us on the Cross. As true food and true drink the Eucharist nourishes us so we can grow spiritually.  Jesus also tells us: “Whoever eats my flesh and drink my blood remains in me and I in him.” Through the Sacrament of the Eucharist He remains in us and we remain in him, so our mortal bodies can become immortal.  Jesus became like us in flesh, so we could become like God in him.  It enables us to partake in the life of the Trinity. We affirm this reality each time we hear the priest conclude the Eucharistic prayer:

Through him, with him, and in him, O God Almighty Father, in unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours for ever and ever.  

Our response is the Great Amen where we affirm our belief that the Eucharist is truly Jesus’ flesh and blood that gives us eternal life.  Think about this each time you respond Amen at Mass.

These words were hard for the Jews to believe. Next week we’ll hear that many of his disciples left him after this.    It’s still hard for many people today to believe in this reality.  We know there are many Christian and even some Catholics who struggle with this belief.  If we keep the words of Proverbs in mind it may help: Those invited to the feast are the simple and those lacking understanding.  If we just simply listen to the words of Jesus, the Word of Wisdom, and believe that they are true, then we can have eternal life.   I’d strongly encourage to take time and read the entire content of John chapter 6 and be open to what he is saying.

By consuming the Eucharist, we receive grace and are transformed to grow in holiness and love to become one with Christ. As we become one with Christ, we are united with the body of Christ, and can transform the world. A great example of a person transformed by the Eucharist was St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta.  We know of her great love of the poor, which flowed from the power of the Eucharist. Consider her words: If we truly understand the Eucharist, if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives, if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love him, and to serve him in the poor. If we feed on Jesus’ Word consuming them in our hearts, we can grow to understand he meant what he said: His flesh and blood truly gives us eternal life. By consuming the Eucharist, we can become what we eat.



Sunday, January 7, 2018

Homily for the Epiphany, Cycle B, January 7, 2018


Today is the feast of the Epiphany.   This is not a word that we hear every day. Epiphany is defined as a moment of sudden revelation or insight.  Have you ever had a problem you were dealing with and had an “ah ha!” moment, when you finally figured it out?  It usually happens when we understand something in a new way that changes our perspective.  The magi’s encounter with the Christ child was an Epiphany changing their hearts and minds to go another way.



The magi came in search of the newborn king of the Jews.   Who are the magi? They were a Persian priestly caste who were astrologers, those who studied stars to find meaning in them.  They were also considered “wise” and sought out for their knowledge by kings. What meaning in the stars would have prompted them to set out on a journey?   Historical sources of the time speculated that a new ruler of the world would emerge from Judah.  There must have been trouble in their own lands that prompted them to seek out a new leader in hope of finding peace. 



We have a similar situation today in the world where the powerful are threatened by Jesus and do they can to remove any reference to him.

Public displays of the Nativity or Ten Commandments are constantly being challenged in the courts.  The powerful want to be in control and feel threatened by God. We are troubled as well. The magi were not just ordinary men. They were the seekers of truth found in every age. 



The magi reached Judea and went to King Herod to ask where the newborn king was. This troubled Herod.   Herod was a paranoid and evil king. History tells us he even murdered his own sons to protect his power. Herod’s inherent evil prompts him to use the magi to find the newborn king. He tells them he wants to pay homage to this new king, but he really wants get rid of him.



After the magi’s encounter with Herod they set out to find the newborn king following the rising star that stopped over the place where the child was. The prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading speaks of this:



Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you.



There are some people, who doubt the appearance of this star that guided the magi.  Modern astronomers have concluded an alignment of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars at the time of Jesus’ birth that could have appeared as a very bright star.  Exactly how the star came to rest directly above Christ’s birthplace, may be in question, but we need to keep in mind that it wasn’t the star that determined magi’s destiny to find the child. It was the child, The Son of God and Creator of the Universe, who directed the star, for the magi to find Him.



The magi where overjoyed when they saw the star.  Upon entering the house, they prostrated when they encountered the baby Jesus. To prostrate, is to lay
face down totally flat ground on the ground. Now just think about this. Can you imagine these highly revered men lying face down on the ground on dirty floor of a stable where animals lived, ate, and did other things? They must have been totally awed at the presence of the infant Jesus, and felt compelled to give reverence due to divine king. The gifts they offered Jesus, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also fit for a divine king, their absolute best. Tradition holds that the gold offered represented the kingship of Christ, the frankincense His divinity, and myrrh, for anointing of a royal body to preserve it upon death, represented Christ’s Passion.   Do we reverence Christ in the same way as the magi when we encounter him?  Are the gifts we bring Him our best?



Our Gospel concludes with the magi being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but to go by another way to their own countries.  We’ve heard a lot about God sending messages in dreams the last few weeks. 

Mary, Joseph, and now the magi hear from God in dreams.  We can only listen to God if we are still and quiet enough to hear him.  After the magi’s personal encounter with Jesus they must have had an Epiphany in the quiet of their dreams that true peace wasn’t to be found in the ways of the world, which Herod represents.  True peace could only be found in the Christ child. The magi who came seeking truth, were Gentiles, represents Jesus coming for everyone, regardless of race or origin.   They represent a new beginning for us, a journey of humanity to Christ.



The magi give us a good model.   They followed the star to find the newborn king. In their personal encounter they give Him homage and their best gifts.  Finally, they listen to God in prayer to change their lives to follow him.  



We also do the same ourselves.  When we come to Mass we are overjoyed when we see the tabernacle light, the Star of Bethlehem, indicating the presence of Christ. We show homage to Him when we genuflect to the tabernacle upon entering, kneel during the Eucharistic prayer, and bowing in receiving the Eucharist. At the presentation of the gifts we offer the gold of our acts of kindness we’ve done through the week.  The frankincense of efforts in school or at work to build up the Kingdom of God.  The myrrh of mercy we give to comfort those who are suffering, through our presence and prayers.  We even journey like the magi to spend time with Jesus in one of the perpetual adoration chapels we have in our area.  Finally, we listen to him in quiet prayer, to have own Epiphany daily, to go another way to follow Christ.




Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Be prepared as you don't know when you'll be called to the Wedding Feast - 32nd Sunday, Cycle A

During the month of November, we remember our loved ones who have died.  We have the hope that that they are in heaven or are being prepared for entry into heaven. Our prayers can help those who are in purgatory.   As we approach the end of the Church year the readings focus on the end times.  Christ will come again for the final judgement and our love ones who died in Christ will be raised.  We don’t know when that will be, but we are assured he will return.  We will all be called home to our Lord at some time as well.  We want to be prepared when he comes. 

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, one of the earliest Scripture of the New Testament, addresses a community concerned about Christ’s return and their loved ones who have died. The Thessalonians expected Christ to return in their lifetime. As some of them died there was concern they wouldn’t be raised when Christ returned.   St. Paul wrote to encourage them that those who had died with faith in Christ would be raised first. This same reading encourages us two thousand years later to assure us of Christ coming as well and that our loved ones with faith in Christ will rise with him.

So we know that Christ will return, but we don’t know when.   How can we prepare for his coming? The parable of the ten virgins gives us some insight.  We can learn from the wise virgins who were prepared.  Some background on marriage customs at the time will help understand the special role of the virgins in the wedding.    In the first stage of marriage the bride was betrothed to the bridegroom.  She was usually in her teen years and continued to live with her family until the groom was ready to take her into his home. When time came the bridegroom would come late in the evening dressed in his finest clothes to take the bride to his home and to begin the wedding festivities.  The virgins were family members, sisters and cousins, who would lead the couple with lit torches to the bridegroom’s house in the middle of the night.   This was two thousand years ago and there were no lights in the streets, so it was important for the virgins to be prepared to light the procession to the entire way. The wedding feast was a joyous celebration that lasted for a week and everyone looked forward to attending.    The wedding feast is an image of heaven, where the bridegroom, Jesus, welcome his bride, the Church into heaven.

As we heard there were some wise and foolish virgins.  The foolish ones didn’t have enough oil to keep their lamps burning to get to the wedding feast.   They asked the wise virgins for some oil, but they turned them down.   Why would they do that? Were the wise virgins selfish and not willing to share?   I don’t think so.  I think it’s because the oil was produced by themselves.  Their oil represents the preparation to be welcomed into the wedding feast.  The foolish virgins went off to obtain oil from the merchant, but returned to find the doors locked and the bridegroom not recognizing them.  The message we learn is that only those prepared for the wedding feast will be granted entry.

So what did the oil represent? What is something that can only come from us and we can’t be given away to others?  Faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the main component of the oil.   Faith can only come from our own conversion in our own hearts. We have to obtain it for ourselves.   We can have others who can lead us to faith in Jesus.  St. Paul was a great example of that.   Our parents, family, friends, teachers, religious and clergy are others who can influence our faith.  But we have to make the decision to come to faith in Christ ourselves. 

What else makes up the oil that lights the lamps?  It’s the things we do living as disciples of Christ.   Spending time daily in prayer is an essential element.  This is how we develop a relationship with Christ.  A relationship is something we cannot give away and takes time to develop.  It’s nurtured through time studying Scripture and good Christian media. Acts of mercy in showing love for our neighbor is another essential component.    We can’t give away these acts of mercy to someone else.  We have to perform them on their own. The oil is also made up of grace received by participating of the life of the Church through the sacraments.  We are first initiated into faith in Christ through our baptism.   For most of us baptism was a gift our parents chose for us to receive, but a few made the choice on our own later in life.  After Baptism we grow in our faith through the sacraments that nurture, heal, and strengthen us. We have to approach God’s ministers to receive the sacraments and it’s not something that we can give away to others.  

So how can we prepare to have an abundance oil to burn brightly in our lamps to enter the wedding feast?  By living in the present moment ready to accompany the bridegroom.  How can we do this? By weekly attending the Sunday Mass and Holy Days to receive the Eucharist.  We can pray daily to share our joys and struggles with Jesus and ask for His help on our journey.  Frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation will allow us to receive God’s Mercy.   We can love our neighbor through many ministries of our parish:  Thanksgiving food distribution, food pantry, and Gabriel project just to name a few.  We can also be beacons of light burning brightly in our schools, workplace, homes, and where we recreate by being kind, patient, and merciful to others.

If we put off living our faith Christ till later, the door to the wedding feast may be locked.  We don’t want to hear the words our Lord told the foolish virgins: Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.  Choose to live in the present time as Christ’s disciple.   It’s each of our responsibility to prepare for the wedding feast.  We don’t know the day or the time Christ will return, so start preparing now.


Replay Caesar what belongs to Caesar & to God what belongs to God - 29th Sunday, Cycle A

Our Gospel today ends with Jesus telling his opponents to repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.   This may be a familiar saying of Jesus, but what point was he trying to make?  Some background on the situation may be helpful to provide some insight.

The Pharisees were the Jewish religious leaders who would outwardly appear pious, but in their hearts were far from God.  They were constantly trying to accuse Jesus of violating the hundreds of Jewish laws they held everyone to. The Pharisees were also in opposition to Roman authorities who were in control of Jerusalem.   The Roman Emperor, Caesar, was the political leader, and also claimed to be divine. The Pharisees did not accept this claim.  The Roman currency used for commerce had Caesar’s image stamped on one side and the claim of his divinity on the other. The Pharisees would not permit the Jews to use the coins as they thought it was a form of idolatry.  They were only allowed to use unmarked copper coins for trade in the Jewish community.

The Herodian’s were a group of Jews who supported the Roman occupiers.   For this they received many favors to their benefit.    To protect their own interests, they would inform the Romans of anyone who opposed them.  They really didn’t have anything in common with Pharisees.  

So why would these two opposing groups come together?  So the Pharisees could trap Jesus and put him to shame, in order to get rid of him. The thought that by asking Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, he would be put in a no win situation.    If Jesus said it was ok to pay the taxes the Pharisees would turn the Jewish people against him.  If Jesus said paying taxes was unlawful the Herodian’s would report him to the Roman and have him hauled off to prison. The Pharisee’s had it all worked out to get rid of Jesus.

But Jesus knew their hearts were up to no good. True to form Jesus catches them in being hypocrites by asking for a coin used to pay the census taxes.   The Pharisee’s produced a Roman coin with Caesars image on it.   If they were truly practicing what they preach, they wouldn’t have any. Jesus turns the tables on them and shames the Pharisees by their actions.

Jesus finally answers with something they didn’t expect: to pay what’s due to both Caesar and also to God.   The Jews were living under Roman occupation and had to coexist with them.   Paying taxes to the Romans was not something that is inherently sinful. But if not paid the Jews would be subject to punishment or even death by the Romans. So paying the census tax to peacefully coexist was necessary.  

Jesus was trying to make a point to his adversaries: God is the one they owe their greatest debt.  The Herodian’s and Pharisees were both Jews.  As Jews they were called to give their all to God: to love him with all their heart, mind, and soul and to love their neighbor as their self.   They owed everything to God because he is author of life.  The actions of the Herodian’s and Pharisees reflected their inner disposition, which was to only benefit them.  They were trying to keep at the center of attention, rather than God. They weren’t open to Jesus’ message of making present the Kingdom of Heaven by loving God and neighbor.   They were focused on themselves and all the privileges they received, rather than being the selfless servant as Jesus was.

We all live in a world today that is ruled by secular powers that may not always follow Gods ways.   God has allowed them to be in power.  If there is something contrary to God’s ways we can make a difference by living out our Christian faith and making the Kingdom of Heaven present.  How can we do this?

-         By praying at meals at home and when out in public
-         Through patience and forgiveness when driving
-         By sticking up for someone whose being bullied or made fun of
-         In being present to others when they experienced a loss
-         By supporting issues and candidates that support the dignity of life

Or we can choose to ignore the situation and only look out for ourselves like the Pharisees did.

As citizens of the United States of America we are subject to taxes just like the Jews were.  We may not like to pay taxes, but to live peacefully we are required to pay them as well.  We pay those taxes with the hard earned money from the talents God gave us.    The currency we use has an important reminder on it: “In God we trust”. This is a reminder for us that God is the one we really owe everything:  our country, homes, families, and our own lives.  We all have to pay our taxes, but do we remember to pay to God what belongs to God? Do we give God all our heart, mind, and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves? As we come forward for the Eucharist today let’s thank God for all he has given to us, and ask for the grace to enable us to give Him all our heart, mind, and soul.





  

Monday, September 25, 2017

Seek the Lord while he may be found, 25th Sunday, September 24, 2017, Cycle A


I’d like to start off with a short hymn. Please join me if it’s familiar to you.



Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me.   

I once was lost but now am found. 

Was blind but now I see.



This is one of the most famous Christian hymns and was composed by John Newton.  John was an Anglican minister, but his early life was not what you would have expected. In the mid 1700’s John Newton was a notorious slave trader. John lived a life of immorality, but in his own words, “made it a study to seduce and tempt others to a life of debauchery”.   John’s mother taught him Scripture at an early age, but she died when he was seven.  His father was a merchant navy captain and by the time he was eleven John traveled the sea with him.



On one of the journey’s a huge storm had raged for 11 days.  The ship was battered and one side was almost completely destroyed. John was so exhausted that he had to strap himself to the helm to keep awake.  For eleven hours he fought the raging storm and had much time to think about. His life was a wreck that was going down like the ship in the storm.  He recalled a Scripture that from Proverbs:



But since you refuse to listen when I call

and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,

I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;

Then they will call to me but I will not answer.



John felt he was beyond hope and being saved.



As I prepared the homily for today the beginning of first reading stood out to me:



Seek the LORD while he may be found,

Call him while he is near. 

Let the scoundrel forsake his way,

and the wicked his thoughts:

let him turn to the LORD for mercy;

To our God, who is generous and forgiving.



Isaiah’s prophesy was to call the lost sheep of Israel back into a relationship with Him.  God’s response was one of mercy and forgiveness and not of vengeance for their misdeeds.



Are we really trying to seek the Lord?  I suspect so, because you are all here.  But we all know people who are not.   Many of them are our own family, friends, and co-workers.   How can we help them to seek the Lord?  It may be hard to do for some of us.   We may have known them for a long time and think they are beyond hope.  We may have a strained relationship with them.   Our thoughts may be like the first workers in the vineyard who answered the call and toiled the longest.   We deserve our compensation, but why should someone living a sinful life for years receive the same reward as we do?  This seems unjust in our human way of thinking.



But as we heard in Isaiah:



For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.



God generously offers his grace of mercy and forgiveness to those who seek him.  Even to those who have lived are sinful lives and seek him very late in their life.   This can be very hard for us to understand, but its’ Gods way.   



How can we be instruments of God’s love and mercy?  First we can continue to seek the Lord ourselves and live following his ways. Second, we can invite others to seek a relationship with God.  One good way to start is to pray for those who don’t have that relationship.  For some that may be the only thing we can do.   We may not be able to invite others due to strain in relationship we may have with them. But God can place others in their lives who can do so and we can pray for that to happen.

 

If we have a good relationship with them we can invite and welcome to begin to seek the Lord through the sacraments.  This may be through RCIA or Welcoming Catholic Home that we have going on in the parish.  It could be as simple as inviting them to attend Mass with us. The Sacraments provide the opportunity to directly encounter Jesus to provide strength and healing.  We can be God’s instruments of mercy and forgiveness to invite others to work in the vineyard.



Returning to John Newton’s battle at sea it seemed he was beyond saving.  But as the storm raged John’s thoughts turned to Christ and he transformed his life. John turned to Bible Study, prayer, and Christian reading and He tried to be a Christian example to the sailors and slaves on ship.  He left slave-trading and later felt a call to ministry where he preach of Gospel of Christ for over 42 years in Olney, England.  There he composed many hymns over the years to support his services, one them being, “Amazing Grace”. 



So as we continue with to receive the Eucharist continue to seek the Lord, and help others to do so as well.  Regardless of when we turn to the Lord or the sins we’ve committed, God will be generous in his mercy and forgiveness. God’s grace is abundantly offered to all who seek the Lord.