Sunday, July 30, 2006

17th Sunday, Ordinary - Homily

Normally, when I am giving a talk to a group about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and what takes place during the Mass, I can stump the group with one question: what is the moment of consecration? When do the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ? I will reveal the answer to this group in a few minutes. Now, when we hear this Gospel, we might ask the same question…when does the multiplication of the loaves and fish actually take place? One minute we hear that there are five loaves and two fish, and the next minute…they “have their fill”.

It’s kind of like here at Mass…the multiplication of Catholics at Mass. When we processed in, there was practically no one here. And, now, as I give the homily…poof…the place is full! Nevertheless, we see many similarities with this Gospel and what takes place at Mass.

The first reading is a preview of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. They are almost identical stories; the story involving Elisha in the second book of Kings occurred 500 years Before Christ. Like all Old Testament events, it leads to and is fulfilled in the New Testament. The events of the Old Testament spoke to the people of those times, but also to the people of later times, particularly the ones who are alive during the time of the Messiah. They prepared people to recognize the Christ, so that they would proclaim him as the Messiah.

In this Gospel from John 6, we hear phrases that remind us of Holy Mass. “A large crowd” came to Christ…we, too, come in large numbers to Christ, to his altar at Mass. They brought him “five barley loaves and two fish”…we bring him bread and wine. These are all ordinary gifts of the earth, and they represent us, humanity. In fact, barley loaves were seen as the food of the poor.

He had them “recline”; he was preparing them for a meal… we prepare for this Sacred Meal by kneeling. He “took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them”…we hear the same words from the Last Supper accounts: “he took bread, gave thanks…and gave it to them”. The distribution of the loaves and fish is a preview to Holy Communion. They all “had their fill”…whenever we receive a gift from God, we are satisfied. “Twelve wicker baskets with fragments” were left over…twelve is a significant number because it represents the twelve Apostles. They are all there for this miracle.

Also, when God gives, He gives in abundance. They collected the fragments in the same way that we collect the fragments of the Eucharist, and store any leftover in the tabernacle so that none goes to waste. Finally, witnessing this miracle leads them to have faith. They proclaim that Christ is “the prophet, the one who is to come into the world”…how much more are we who receive the Body and Blood of Christ filled with faith to proclaim him as our God?

The main difference between this Gospel and what happens at Mass is the difference between a miracle and a sacrament. In a miracle, a change in nature takes place that our senses can pick up. The people could see that loaves and fish had been multiplied…that water had been turned into wine…that a blind person could see. But, in a sacrament, we don’t see any change. It’s not a natural change, it’s a supernatural change. We don’t see a change in the bread and wine; we only know by faith that a change takes place... Jesus says, “this is my body”.

The moment of consecration, then, is when the priest says these words of Christ…”this is my body... This is my blood”. Then, it is no longer bread, and no longer wine. That is why we ring the bells at that moment; the bells say, ‘be alert…something extraordinary is happening here’.

So, as we prepare to witness this extraordinary event in a few minutes, this amazing occurrence, we prepare to be fed by our Lord. How much more do we receive our ‘fill’ when we are filled with the Body and Blood of Christ … filled with God’s love? May we know God’s love through the Eucharist this day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Trust in Christ

Recently, a blogger wrote a deep couple of questions: "My question is how does totally surrender to God really letting go? I know its all about faith but how do we build that and not have it shatter in our face the moment something goes wrong? Please answer this-this is really important for my spiritual life."

Regarding total surrender to God, please keep in mind what Jesus says about giving up everything for God and his kingdom. For example, he tells the parable of the person who finds a great treasure (which represents the kingdom of heaven) buried in a field, and "out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Mt 13:44). While it is not always easy, it should bring us great joy to give up everything for the kingdom of God. It the greatest treasure on earth.

We don't build up our own faith; Christ does. He nourishes faith through us. Again using a parable, we look at the mustard seed (Mt 13:31-32). The mustard seed cannot grow on its own. With the help of water, the Sun, and air, it "becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come to dwell on its branches'". Our faith cannot grow on its own. With the help of the water of Baptism, the Body and Blood of the Son, and the air of the Holy Spirit, our faith can grow large enough to move mountains (see Mt 21:21).

With this in mind, then, I would suggest three ways** to allow Christ to build up your faith:

1) Open yourself to his Grace
Our job as believers is to be open to Christ and his Grace. If we remain open, he will give us faith that won't shatter when times get tough. He will bring us closer to Himself, the Prince of Peace. He is the One we need when life gets rough. His Grace will get us through whatever curveballs life throws us: "if God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31).

2) Frequent the sacraments
The sacraments are where we receive Sanctifying Grace (the life of God dwelling within us)...where we receive faith. Faith is given in Baptism, nourished by the Eucharist, sealed in Confirmation, restored in Confession, etc. Daily Mass (whenever possible) and monthly Confession are highly recommended for those who wish to go deeper in their relationship with Christ.

3) Pray your tail off
Talk every day to Christ, preferably in his Real Presence in the Eucharist (in a Church or chapel where the Blessed Sacrament dwells). Read Scripture every day (one chapter of the Gospel a night works for many folks), pray the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, etc. Just as a disciplined athlete exercises every day, so we should work out every day spiritually (see 1 Cor 9:24-27).

Finally, to be a real believer is to trust in Christ. "Fear is useless; what is needed is trust" (Mk 5:36). If I totally surrender to Christ, I give him my life...I give him my fears... my worries. "Do not worry about your life...your Father knows (the things) that you need" (Lk 12:22,30).
** Are there other ways that Christ builds up our faith?
Other Scriptural passages/quotes that speak of this?

Monday, July 17, 2006

SAA Flag Football!!

We had our first SAA Summer Flag Football games yesterday, and had a great turnout of youth! Almost 30 teens (along with about 20 adults who watched) braved the afternoon heat to enjoy a few hours of friendly competition and fellowship. What good athletes we have in the school and parish! Both boys and girls impressed the onlookers with dazzling moves, nifty plays, and great effort and enthusiasm!

Thanks to all the teens who came out, our referees, the parents who helped, George Gillespie and the Stifters for the photos, and our seminarian, Dan, who assisted me immensely. See you all next Sunday at 4 pm for more fun!

Here are some photos from the action:

Friday, July 14, 2006

Confession: an encounter with the God of Mercy

Confessions tonight, 7 pm. I will be hearing Confessions tonight (7/14) in the Confession booths in the back left of St Andrew's Church starting at 7:00.
We've had an excellent, ongoing discussion this week about Confession on the blog sites. Some great comments and questions have come in. One blogger wrote, "I was wondering one thing. How often should people go to confession? I know A LOT of people who don't go to confession because they find it too embarrassing".

If we think in general terms of what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about, what do we think of? Forgiveness ...confessing sins...reconciling with God...changing our lives. These are all true and good. But, I need something concrete that I can point to that will motivate me each time to swallow my pride, get over my embarrassment, and go before the priest to confess my sins. Is there one thing that will do that for me?

The Cross.

Jesus gave his life so that our sins would be forgiven: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28). He suffered tremendously for each of us. He shed so much blood. He endured serious humiliation and mockery. He was spit on, whipped, slapped, and ridiculed by many people. He let himself be embarrassed for us.

Jesus endured all of this because we cannot bring about the forgiveness of sins on our own. In other words, it was necessary for God to become man and sacrifice himself on behalf of humanity for sins to be forgiven. The Jews tried for thousands of years to atone for sins by making sacrifices; Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is the only sacrifice acceptable to the Father for the forgiveness of sins.

Whenever we go to Confession (once a month is recommended), we say, 'thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice'. We humble ourselves in front of Him because "he humbled himself for our humanity". He hung on the Cross for at least three hours so that, among other things, we would go to Confession.

Plus, when we go, it is Christ in the Confessional. We see the priest but it's really Jesus - he is the real minister of all the sacraments (see Mt 28:20). He knows all of our sins, and wants to free us of our guilt, shame, and slavery to sin.

He treats us as he did the (embarrassed) woman caught in adultery: "neither do I condemn you. Go [and] from now on do not sin any more" (Jn 8:11). This encounter with the God of Mercy changed her life! She went through a few moments of embarrassment and then experienced a joy she had never known. She experienced the joy of Christ's love and forgiveness... a lasting joy! If we risk a few moments of embarrassment, then we, too, will receive the reward of heavenly joy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"My grace is sufficient"

"My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness" - 2 Cor 12:9.

Friday, July 07, 2006

"This is a hard teaching"

Mass and Adoration tonight! All bloggers are invited to join me tonight (7/7) in St Andrew's Church for Mass (7 pm) and Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist (7:30-8:30). We'll have some prayerful music and I'll offer a spiritual reflection. These are two great ways to be with our Lord, but especially on First Friday (of the month).
Recently, a SAA blogger wrote the following about the Eucharist: "I JUST DON'T GET IT!!!! I can't really explain but I try to believe that it's God but somehow I just can't. That's a problem that sometimes occurs. The ENORMITY of it all just overwhelms me that I am scared to even try to understand the Eucharist fully. I'd feel safer thinking that it's just a symbol."

This is really good stuff! I don't mean to belittle the anonymous blogger's struggle at all because "this is a hard teaching" (John 6:60). But, this is what faith is all about. A connection has been made for "Anon": he/she has heard the Truth about the Eucharist. For that reason, Anon, you do get it!! You are so right to say that the ENORMITY OF IT ALL IS OVERWHELMING. It is. But, so many Catholics never even approach that point because it never registers with them that it's anything more than bread.

Now, a few practical points, to help you and all those who struggle with the Real Presence in your faith:

1) Trying to understand the Eucharist is like trying to understand the Trinity: 'not gonna do it'. We believe THAT transubstantiation occurs (the substances of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ while retaining their qualities) but we don't understand HOW it happens; it's a mystery.
2) Please read John 6. This is where Jesus teaches about the Eucharist. Neither in this chapter nor in any of the Last Supper accounts does Jesus use the word 'symbol'. The word symbol, in relation to the Eucharist, was first used in the 1500s by the Protestant Reformers.
3) To use an analogy, monopoly money is symbolic only; it means nothing in the real world.

Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who helped start the "protests" against the Church 500 years ago. He changed "this is my body" to "this symbolizes my body" in his biblical translation in order to meet the new theology of his movement. 'The Eucharist is a symbol only' is man-made; the Church has condemned it as heresy (denial of a truth that must be believed in faith). It doesn't appear anywhere in Scripture, Tradition, or in the teachings of the Magisterium. It is not safe at all, then, to believe that the Eucharist is symbolic only; in fact, heresy puts one's soul in REAL DANGER!

The Church has believed for 2000 years that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ- Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - because of 4 words: "This is my body". Jesus said these words at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist (and the priesthood). Before that, he spoke in real, literal terms to thousands of Jews when he taught about the Eucharist: "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" (John 6:54,55). Almost all of them rejected his teaching and left him that day. He didn't stop them, and say 'hey, you all misunderstood me'. They understood him correctly, and didn't believe him.

The Apostles also understood him correctly, but they DID believe Him even though they didn't understand. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe" (Jn 6:68).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

13th Sunday, Ordinary - Homily

A St Andrew parishioner has asked me to post my Sunday homilies. I don't write them out, so I'll make my best effort to remember what I said!
We don't hear the story of the woman with the hemorrhage very often in the cycle of Lectionary readings at Mass. It is a powerful story. This woman suffered for twelve years from hemorrhaging (bleeding) and went to many doctors. None of them could heal her. Then, she just touched the garment of Jesus, and immediately, the bleeding stopped. She was healed.

We use this story many times on retreats, especially with youth. What we do is bring Jesus out of the tabernacle and onto the altar in the monstrance. Then the priest puts on this garment called a humeral veil. Now, our parents and the older generation grew up on Benediction, where the priest gives the Benediction with the monstrance while wearing the veil. The understanding is that with the garment over his hands, the priest is taken out of the equation. It is really Jesus (in the Eucharist) who is giving the blessing.

So, what we do is have the priest bring the monstrance from the altar to where the youth are. He processes to where the kids are, and walks slowly around them. Holding the monstrance with the veil, again it is that he is taken out of the equation. It is really Jesus walking through the crowd of youth just as walked through the crowd in the Gospel. Using this Gospel story as the backdrop, the kids reach out and touch the garment of Jesus. Now, these kids are dealing with so much in their lives…I've seen it time and again where they experience real healing by touching the garment of Christ. It is very powerful.

We all are dealing with a lot. We all have wounds like the woman with the hemorrhage. Our wounds may go back twelve years, maybe longer. Our wounds may be sins…habits…vices…maybe problems with family or friends…maybe hatred…anger… rejection…loneliness…tragedy…illness. Whatever our wounds are, we can be healed… by Christ.

Are we like the woman with the hemorrhage, and have gone to many doctors to be healed. Do we go to counselors or therapists with our wounds? None of them has the power to heal us like Christ has. He is the Divine Physician who can heal our souls… mainly through the Eucharist and Confession. And, he has given his power of healing to his priests. I know possess his power to heal. One therapist told me and a group of priests, "we don't have the tools and power that you guys have."

But, why is it that we all have wounds? Why do we all suffer? Where did suffering come from? Did God make suffering? No. From our first reading, Wisdom Chapter 1, "God did not make death" (v. 13). God did not make suffering. "Death entered the world through the envy of the devil" (Wis 2:23), through sin. Suffering, then, is a natural result of sin. That means that all of my wounds are caused by own sins or the sins of others.

Now, what if my wound is cancer, or depression? It doesn't seem fair because I've done nothing wrong. Well, we look at the Cross, and see the ultimate Innocent Victim. He did nothing wrong, and suffered tremendous wounds for us. St. Peter writes in his first letter, chapter 2, "by his wounds you are healed" (v.24). Christ took on all of our wounds so that we might be healed. He knows the pain of all of our wounds, and can heal them.

So, we come to this Eucharist today to be healed. It is the same Christ that will be present on the altar and in Holy Communion who healed the woman with the hemorrhage. It is the same Jesus, the same healing power. If we come to Him with the same faith as her, hopefully He will say the same words to our hearts: "your faith has saved you" (Mk 5:34). Your faith has healed you. May we all be open to the healing power of Christ this week. He has such a great desire to heal each one of us. He has such great love for each of us. A deep, passionate love. May you know His great love for you this week.

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