Sunday, August 5, 2018
In today’s gospel, we see a hungry crowd looking for Jesus and finally tracking him down. They say: “Rabbi, when did you arrive here?” Jesus responds: “Amen I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures for eternal life.” Why is Jesus calling them out in this way?
Jesus is saying to the crowds that if they are there only to fill their bellies, then they are there for the wrong reasons. The people are missing the entire point of who he is, as well as the bigger picture in terms of what God is calling them to. They are only thinking about their own short-term, physical needs instead of God, conversion, truth and eternal life. St. Paul, in our second reading, refers to this higher goal and purpose: “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds; put on the new self created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
Today’s gospel message reminds me of the words of St. Teresa of Avila who said: “Lord, I don’t want your gifts, I want you!” Jesus confirms this when he says: “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all other things will be given to you as well” (Mt, 6:33).
This is an important message for us because we can fall into the trap of not seeking God simply because he is God, absolute beauty and truth. Sometimes, instead of seeking God we are only seeking to have our bellies filled. In other words, instead of wanting God, we want the benefits of what we think God can do for us. This happens when our faith becomes more about appearances and social duty; or, when we only seek to be entertained or told what we want to hear. Sometimes we only want what we think religion can give, without a personal relationship with Jesus. These can be things like a Catholic education, a perfect family and perfect kids. Religion without relationship always comes up short, leavening us feeling empty and even hungrier than we were before.
The good news today is that when Jesus calls-out the crowd’s motives it is not because he doesn’t want to feed them, but because he cares so much more for them than they even know. He calls out to us in the same way: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will not thirst” (Jn 6:35). Ultimately, the only thing that Jesus wants from us is our hearts. He wants our love, and to be in a relationship with us just as he is in a relationship with the Father.
The gospel invites us to think not only about “what can God give me?”, but also in terms of “what can I give to God?” How is the Lord calling us to give him our hearts, our minds, our worship and our service? It seems to me, that the satisfaction of our deepest hunger comes from more than just bread alone. May the body and blood of Christ which we share in communion today fill us with the joy and peace that only God can give. Only then will we never hunger in this life or in the next.
Sunday, July 29, 2018
In today’s gospel, we see the Lord Jesus feed a crowd of five thousand tired, hungry and exhausted people when everyone has nothing. There is not enough food and Jesus and the disciples are exhausted as well. The disciples realize that feeding the people is a physical impossibility as they take account of having only five loaves of bread and two fishes. Despite all of this, Jesus asks the people to be seated, takes the food, prays to his heavenly Father and then proceeds to multiply the loaves and fishes. Everyone is satisfied with more than enough to eat, as there ends up being twelve baskets of excess bread and fish.
Today’s gospel reminds us that when we have nothing left, Jesus will always come through and provide for what we need. The gospel reminds me of a friend who is one of the greatest Christians I know. My friend is a great dad. He has a wife and four small children. He works long hours at a high stress job selling new high-end vehicles. Like many of us, he has to pay a mortgage, insurance, school, taxes, and the list goes on and on. His elderly mother lives a few miles away with his brother who is in his mid fifties and has special needs (he can’t live alone). On top of all of this, my friend’s wife - who is in her thirties - has cancer. She has the most aggressive form of breast cancer that despite years of treatment and procedures, keeps coming back. Needless to say, my friend’s entire life is like one big pressure cooker and he is often extremely exhausted. We talk on the phone very often and he has said to me may times, “I have nothing left.” He reminds me of the people in today’s gospel who are at the end of their ropes and have nothing left, except for Jesus.
One night my friend called me around 10pm while he was driving home after working the entire day. He said to me, “I can’t even go home right now to rest my head because I have to go to my mom’s house. My brother plugged-up the toilet and there is a huge mess all over the bathroom floor. I have to go and fix it!” If there was ever a time that he and I almost cried over the phone, that was it. My friend vented his frustrations for a few minutes and when he calmed down he said something that almost made me fall out of my chair. He said: “I know that this is really not about a toilet, but about me not yelling at my poor mother and brother. I have to be kind when I go in there.” I really believe that just that fact that he was able to say this was clear evidence of Jesus taking over when he had nothing left. And the fact that he was able to go to his mom’s house and be merciful was akin to Jesus’ miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes when there was nothing left to give.
May the bread and wine that Jesus gives in the form of his body and blood help us to allow him to take over, especially when we have nothing left. Only Jesus can create and multiply blessings when all seems impossible and lost. Only Jesus’ love can move us to be great heroes in life who can touch the hearts of many, the way my great friend touched mine.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Last June when I was on vacation on a lake in Wisconsin, the Lord taught me many things that had little to do with vacation plans. Fishing is something that I love, and one of the new things that I taught myself this summer was how to back a boat on a trailer into the water and how to get it out. And so when my vacation came around and I was finally on the lake, I endeavored to back the boat into the water successfully for the first time in my life. I had a little anxiety about this task not only because it was my first time, but also because I was going to do it by myself. Fortunately, the lake where I launched the boat was small and private, so I didn’t have to worry about lines of people honking their horns behind me if I were to have a hard time. In any event, things went well as the car didn’t slide down the ramp into the water with me in it.
At the end of my vacation, I started to feel some anxiety again as the second moment of truth was about to come, in terms of taking the boat out of the water. I remember that day very well as I was intensely focused on how I was going to do everything. However, when I arrived at the boat ramp, it didn’t take long for me to lose that focus as the Lord had more important things for me to deal with. There was an elderly gentleman who was in the process of launching his boat -very slowly - into to the water. And in the midst of what he was doing, he suddenly stopped and started engaging me in conversation. I remember feeling a jolt of impatience as he was throwing me off of what I was there to do. However, I caught myself, responded politely and before I knew it, was involved in a full-blown conversation. Suddenly the conversation moved from “where are you from?” and tips about fishing to him telling me that he was in the midst of undergoing chemotherapy. He said he had cancer in his colon and that it was abated, but that now it had appeared in his lungs. He then talked about his family, children and grandchildren. I remember as I was listening, I realized that I had totally forgotten about my boat. Then, a thought came to me that said: “Forget about your stupid boat, this is more important.” I didn’t say much during our conversation until the man said to me: “I am not afraid of death, I had a good life.” All I said in response was: “No, you have a good life.” By the way, I did end up pulling my boat out of the water successfully and I was very proud of myself; however, I think God was even more proud of me because I stopped to listen.
As I reflect upon this experience, the Lord keeps reminding me of one very important thing; there is no vacation from my vocation. We see this same insight in the gospel as the disciples try to get away on a boat only to be followed by crowds of people with a variety of physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Jesus, who meets the disciples on the other side of the lake, is moved with compassion for the people and begins to help them in any way he can. The disciples will soon learn from Jesus’ example; there is no vacation from their vocation.
It seems to me, that this is true for all of us as well. We all have a primary vocation as baptized Christians. This vocation is even deeper than the call to a job or to being married or not married, because it is related to our eternal identity. This is the identity that we are called to live out always and everywhere, even when we are on vacation. We can take a day off of work or get a baby sitter for a day or two, but we can never take a day off from being a Christian.
How is God calling us to live our vocation as Christians more intentionally? What does that entail for us? In what ways do we need to shift our focus? May today’s Eucharist help us to delve more deeply into these questions so that we may better serve the world as disciples of Jesus.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
In today’s gospel we hear: “The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven,’ and they said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say I have come down from heaven’?” This dilemma that the people are struggling with is, at its heart, a struggle to distinguish between the things of heaven and the things of earth; the things of the flesh and the things of the spirit; the difference between earthly parents and a heavenly Father who gives life and nurtures like a mother giving us bread from heaven.
Jesus, on the other hand, is struggling to help the people understand that knowing him is the key that unites heaven and earth. This is because Jesus is God made flesh who dwells among us; he is fully God and fully human. Hence, today’s gospel invites us to better integrate our faith with the practical and concrete realities of life. It seems to me, that the best place to begin is with the eucharist. The eucharist is real food while at the same time it is the real presence of Jesus - who IS the bread from heaven.
The eucharist is what opens the eyes of our hearts to realizing that there is an overriding spiritual dimension to everything in life. Thus, a good question to ask is: What is the God dimension of my vocation? What is it in terms of being a parent? What is it professionally and at work? What is it in both the good and the bad experiences of life? When we ask these questions, they begin to integrate our faith with the concreteness of daily life. Then suddenly, we are not just putting a roof over our children’s heads and feeding them, we are actively involved in raising compassionate human beings who are called to be saints. We are not just administrating a church and paying the bills, we are setting people on fire with faith, hope and love. We are not just doing a job and only thinking about getting paid, we are touching people’s lives in the process as instruments of God’s kindness and mercy.
May the bread that comes down from heaven this Sunday help us to be a source of life and nourishment for others in daily life. Only then will we be able to bridge that gap between God and ourselves, heaven and earth and our faith and the way we live.