Sunday, March 22, 2015

Life in Christ; Life to the Full

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I spent this last week visiting a good friend and classmate in California. He is pastor of a parish named in honor of St. Irenaeus, who lived during the second century A.D. St. Irenaeus spent his life and wisdom defending and explaining the Catholic faith. He is credited with a beautiful quote: “The glory of God is man [fully] alive; and the life of man is the vision of God.” He is referring to us, transformed and renewed in Christ, reflecting the glory of God for others to see. When we show forth that life, because we have been transformed by a real, personal encounter with Jesus, then we become true evangelists. We reveal God’s glory in our world.

However, this is not a passive thing; and it is not an accident.

Today’s gospel continues our Lenten reflection on the real encounter with Christ that we are all called to have. As the woman at the well was convicted and became an evangelist to her village; as the man born blind revealed the vision of God in the person of Jesus; so too the raising of Lazarus is a call to us to consider how we encounter Christ and what that encounter has done to us – if anything!

This week, Jesus comes to the tomb of His friend, Lazarus. This is the first time in John’s gospel that we meet Lazarus; and he is dead. This is important. We know nothing of him except that he is Martha and Mary’s brother, and that they were good friends of Jesus – and that he is dead. In fact, Jesus is even certain to make sure that the Apostles (and we) know this fact. When they thought that he was just “asleep,” So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died.”

As He approaches the tomb, we see the great love that Jesus has for Lazarus. He weeps along with the mourners, and they recognize this love. Jesus has a personal relationship with Lazarus - like He wants with us.  Then He reaches out to the tomb and calls Lazarus, and the dead man comes out – alive.

Jesus always reaches out – to us, to the world – and He calls us to life. This is not the usual “breathe-in-breathe-out” sort of life that we live “accidentally,” but rather, it is life to the full – life as God intends it! “The glory of God is man fully alive!” The raising of Lazarus is meant to reveal to us the radical difference that being a friend and disciple of Jesus makes. To be fully alive, we cannot consider business as usual as a believer in Jesus.

This is the Christian call to witness to Christ, and it is no simple thing; it is not delegated to a few “professionals”; it is not someone else’s “religious experience.” This is what faith in Christ means! “Everyone who believes in me will never die.” What a radical statement! How are we following it?

Pope Francis gives us a sense of the radical nature of discipleship. In his exhortation to the Church to become and evangelizing community, he writes:
But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message. It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigor and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody (EG, 266).
Jesus knew that this encounter with Lazarus was meant for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it. As Lazarus returns to life, he is renewed and cannot live the same way – how could he? We are given this life through our first encounter with Christ in Baptism. Remembering that, can we live the same as everyone else?

The difference between a life lived with Jesus and a life lived without Him must be as radical as night and day, black and white, life and death. That is what this gospel encounter is all about. Our Lord’s question to Martha is the same as He asks us: “Do you believe this?”

Does your life with Jesus look exactly the same as a life without Him? Are we trying to build a world based on our relationship with Christ, or are we trying to simply “be nice” and tolerate each other?

Life in Christ is life to the full, and in it we reveal the fullness of God’s glory. This is an “all or nothing” proposal, and we cannot live it by accident or passively. Today, Jesus calls you out of the tomb to new life. How will that life be different now?

Monday, March 9, 2015

An Evangelizing Community

What’s the best thing that has ever happened to you? Can you think of it right now? (Husbands and wives are looking at each other thinking, “It better be me!”). This thing, whatever it is, is what captivates you – what drives you – what you talk about all the time. What has your heart?

My baby brother, Brian, is a runner. He has that special disorder that makes him strap on bright sneakers and go off at some sort of trot for some insane distance only to end up where he started. Most of the time, when I see his posts on Facebook, they are about “having a great run,” or “made a personal best this morning,” or “great beer at the end of the St. Patty’s Day 10K.”

When someone is ebullient about something they love, it can often be annoying to others who just don’t get it. But, I love hearing about it, because I love my brother. And there are far worse things he could be posting on social media!

But, you? What captivates you? What’s the best thing in your life now? I’d imagine that because you are here Jesus is very important to you. I think He is the best thing to ever happen to me – and that is exactly why I am a priest. Do you think your relationship with Christ is the most important thing in your life? If so, why the heck aren’t we talking about Him all the time?!

In this heart of Lent, we are going to hear about three encounters between Jesus and individuals. Starting this Sunday, Jesus will meet the Samaritan woman at the well, a man born blind, and his good (and dead) friend, Lazarus. Each of these Gospels will be long and detailed, and it is very important that we pay close attention to them. They are models of how that encounter with Jesus happens in our lives – and of what that encounter will do to us, if we see it for what it is.

Today, Jesus stops by a well to rest, and along comes the woman. It was about noon. John tells us the time, because that is important. At noon, folks in Jesus’ time would be pausing for lunch and a midday nap. No one would usually be at the well, as most people would’ve stopped by earlier to have water for the day. The woman deliberately chose to go when she knew that there was little chance of encountering anyone. Why? Well, we learn that her life was “irregular” – what, with several past husbands and a live-in boyfriend now. She was probably used to judging stares and comments: best for her to avoid that drama.

However, she does encounter someone. Jesus is there, and He is thirsty. The conversation starts innocently enough, but it soon turns to the woman’s needs, to her brokenness. Jesus’ words are reassuring and encouraging: “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Even aware of the woman’s “irregular” life circumstances, Jesus does not judge her harshly. He recognizes in her, and He draws out of her, a thirst for God – a thirst of wholeness and meaning – that He can satisfy. And the woman is changed. Her fear dissolves. She returns to the village – probably stirring folks from a siesta – and she proclaims Jesus to them. “Come, see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

In other words, she becomes and evangelist because of her encounter with the Lord. In fact, the townspeople came back to Jesus and invited Him to stay on with them – so that they could get to know Him better – so that they could have their encounter with Him; and they were changed. They became what Pope Francis calls an “evangelizing community.”

Brothers and sisters, we too are an “evangelizing community.” This church is our town square, and here I tell you, “Come and encounter someone who has shown me everything, who gives meaning to my life, who is the Messiah!” Here, we encounter Jesus and are changed by that encounter. Then, we are sent forth to tell others and to invite them to encounter Him themselves.

If this Samaritan woman would have been around today, she’d have taken a “selfie” with Jesus and posted it everywhere. “Look who I found!” Like, Like, Like….

Are we aware that Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened to us? Does that fact make any sort of difference in our lives? Are we ready to share that fact with everyone we know? This is what the encounter with Jesus is all about. God seeks us out; we encounter Him; we become evangelists and an evangelizing community; and we welcome others to invite Jesus into their lives.

That is an encounter worth sharing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

All In

God put Abraham to the test. …

Our Liturgy of the Word begins innocently enough, doesn’t it? After all, God does this a lot – we often think of ourselves as going through some test that God is administering. Last weekend, Jesus was “tested” in the desert. We are in the midst of Lent – a season where we “test” ourselves with sacrifices.

However, this is no ordinary test. It is the test. Maybe even “Test,” with a capital “T.”

“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

What?!?!

No one can read or hear this passage without having some sort of reaction or problem with it. How can we – unless, of course, we have no feelings at all? What is God asking? Human sacrifice? Yes. Why?

We believe that God knows what He is doing – at least, most of the time we do. Reading this story, we have to think that God already knew what was going to happen, and that He never meant for Abraham to kill his son. However, Abraham did not know this. In fact, we do not know this. We’ve heard the story before – perhaps, many times – so we know that it works out well for everyone involved (except that poor ram).

This is what makes this a true story of sacrifice. Abraham didn’t know. We don’t really know, either, what our lives are destined to be. We wish we knew; we might have a pretty good idea; we may have very clear plans. But, in the end, we do not know what will be. Only God knows, and HE has not told us.

Our readings this weekend, however, are not about knowing. They are about faith – and more specifically, they are about the response that faith inspires. When we believe in God, what does that mean for us? Is it simply a bot of knowledge that we have? God exists, the sky is blue, my car needs unleaded gas, McDonald’s now has Old Bay Filet-o-Fish? What does faith in God do to us? What does it do in us? What does it do for us?

The lesson of Abraham is that faith – real faith, rooted in a real relationship with God – is an “all-in” thing. It demands commitment, and it demands total commitment. All of Abraham’s life was wrapped up in Isaac. God knows this too. “Take your son, Isaac, your only one, whom you love …” He's really laying it on thick here, isn't He?  God knows what He is asking of Abraham; and He knows that it is not an easy thing.

No one expects the total gift of ourselves to be easy; that’s important to note. I don’t think it’s easy, and neither does God. Jesus, who calls us to the full relationship with Him, also realizes that giving ourselves completely to Him is tough. Today, in our gospel, we see that He is willing to share with those closest to Him a vision of the payoff of this all-in relationship. In the Transfiguration, we see the glory that awaits beyond the sacrifice of the Cross.

God gave us Jesus – His only Son, whom He loves – to be the sacrifice that brings about our relationship with Him. He loves us that much. God does not spare His only Son so that all those who entrust themselves completely to Him can have eternal life, and the glory of that permanent relationship.

Is our faith this strong? Can we offer such a gift of ourselves? Can we be all-in when God asks for our commitment to Him? Or, are we simply going through the motions? Nothing worthwhile ever comes without sacrifice. Jesus shows us the way, as we walk this Lenten journey with Him. The saints have followed this way and been rewarded with the glory of heaven. There are even those today whose faith has made them ready to make the ultimate sacrifice and die for their faith rather than go back on the God of their joy.

Here we sit, comfortable and calm. However, we need to know that if we take our faith seriously we will not be comfortable for long. A faith that cannot be tested is not a faith worth keeping. God put Abraham to the test, and he rose to the moment. God asks us to give ourselves to Him as signs of the power of His love – a love shown in the sacrifice of Jesus for us. Can we return that love in kind?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Those People

I want to talk to you about “Those People.”

How many of you know Those People? Have you seen Those People? Do any of you know whom I am talking about? You do, I am sure. Let me give and example.

Those People are at the intersection of Dundalk Avenue and Hollabird Avenue. You know them. They’re the folks with the homemade placard of cardboard and Sharpie, that reads, “Hungry,” or “Please help,” or “Homeless,” or “Disabled Veteran: Need work.”

Sometimes, as I approach that light and I see Those People, and I realize that I will not make it before it turns red, I become very interested in the workings of my car radio; or I begin to assure that my rear-view mirror is perfectly calibrated; or I decide at that moment to try and find whatever that thing is under my passenger seat. Anything – to keep from making eye contact with Those People!

Those People are everywhere. Maybe they are the guys who hang outside of Home Depot early in the mornings waiting to be grabbed for a daily contracting job. We might call them “Mexicans” – although none of them are actually from Mexico.

Those People are folks who have made different lifestyle choices than we have, and are therefore “Different.” Those People may be misshapen, or pigmented differently, or wear their hair in a funny way.

Those People are everywhere. They are not “Us.” They are “Them.”

Sometimes, we might be Those People, but most often, we are not. Those People have always existed – ever since we began to notice that certain things make us different from one another: male, female, black, white, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight. There has always been a Line, and we have always been on one side or another.

Those People existed in Jesus’ day. We hear about them today – the lepers. They were definitely Those People – not Us, but Them. Even better, they had a law that said it was perfectly fine to avoid them and shun them. “I’m just doing what Moses prescribed, after all.”

However, this is not what Jesus does.

“If you will it, you can make me clean.”

“I do will it; be made clean.”

And Jesus erases that Line between Us and Them, as “He stretched out His hand [and] touched him.”

By this simple yet significant act, Jesus declares that He does not want there to be Those People – that when we see them, we are to encounter them, not shun them. They too are children of God and they deserve to be treated with love and dignity. Maybe we judge them to be wrong – like an illegal immigrant, or someone who won’t work, or someone abusing a welfare system. That does not matter here. They deserve our love and respect.

We are not above loving others – no matter who they are or where we encounter them. At those stop lights, you don’t need to give money, but you can smile and wave hello. You can acknowledge their existence. Sometimes, when I am aware, I will share a bottle of water that I usually have in my car for my tennis games. There is love to be shared, and Jesus’ call to us – His challenge – is to share it.

After his encounter with Christ, the leper could not help but share his joyful news. He even went so far as to “spread the report abroad.” He became an evangelist.

Those People are out there, and we will encounter them this week. Will they meet Jesus? Or will our Lord be about to move among us unnoticed? Will Jesus have to be one of Those People too?

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Meaning in the Ordinary

“My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

Cheery thoughts from our old friend, Job, today, aren’t they?

Have you ever felt like that, though? Just yesterday, it seems, I was starting college with a whole life of dreams and goals ahead of me, and this morning that is now half a lifetime ago. Nothing fun seems to last; and the most difficult times in our lives seem to drag on and on without end.

We all go through highs and lows in our lives: we fall in love and can recount every moment of giddiness and expectation; we agonize over the hours and minutes before a mid-term or final; we pace as we await news of a test result. But one thing is certain: worrying or expecting does nothing to speed up or slow down that passage of time. This is the case for those highs and lows in life, but what of the rest of the time – the “ordinary time.” Is there meaning and significance there too? I would like to think so.

I want to share with you a quote from a famous book – The Velveteen Rabbit. It resonates with me, and I’ll tell you why after:
He said, “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Tomorrow, I will be forty-two and a half years old (I like to count the halves still!), and I still have the teddy bear that I received when I was born. His name is Pete. I have a picture of me and Pete from when I was a few months old. Pete is about as big as I am, he’s all fluffy, with a red nose and a big white bow with green polka dots. I have no memory of that bow; his eyes are now scuffed and cloudy; and his fur is long gone. He’s ugly – but not to me, because I love him. That’s what gives him significance and value. He may be ordinary, but my love makes him extraordinary.

Today’s gospel opens in what we'd call "ordinary" time. Jesus is heading to his friends’ home after teaching. Simon’s mother-in-law is there, sick. Jesus “does his thing,” and heals her. And what does she do? She returns to the very things she usually does, and she waits on her guests.

The presence of Jesus does not call for us to step out of who we are. It does not always call for a radical change of lifestyle or behavior. Rather, it is a reorientation that is required, wherein everything we do – even the ordinary – is done with an awareness of God presence. It is Jesus who gives meaning to what we do.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, wrote an incredibly influential work entitled Man’s Search for Meaning. The book drew on his experiences as a prisoner in several concentration camps as well as a doctor and psychiatrist. He concludes that all life has meaning, no matter the condition, and that this meaning is discovered in each moment lived. Thus, even in the midst of severe suffering and even death, one can securely rest in that sense of meaning. Frankl concludes that this sense comes from our free choice to realize that there is a future to behold – this faith helps a person to retain a hold on their soul and know a sense of meaning in life.

“Everyone is looking for you,” the disciples tell Jesus.

Aren’t we all? Here, we find Jesus at our altar, in this Eucharist – in the “ordinariness” of Bread and Wine. We should want this moment to last forever. But, alas, this moment too will pass. We go on. So does Jesus, in fact: “He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come’.” The healing and the meaning that we seek – that people have sought from the beginning – that Job laments in our First Reading – this meaning, we know, comes from Christ. Jesus comes to us now – even in the ordinary moments – and calls us by name. He gives us true meaning.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Voting for Our King

Most guys between the ages of 35 and 60 know the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Even as I mention it, I am sure some of you guys are smiling to yourselves and immediately remembering dialogue about coconuts, swallows, French taunters, and killer rabbits. It’s classic “guy cinema,” and ladies, if you don’t get it, ask your husbands or boyfriends!

Early in that movie, King Arthur and his trusty companion “ride” through the English countryside and encounter two peasants toiling in the mud. A conversation about politics and systems of government arises. Eventually frustrated, Arthur “orders the two peasants to be quiet. “Who does he think he is?” the woman asks.

“I am your king,” Arthur response matter-of-factly.

“Well I didn’t vote for you!” she retorts.

Then Arthur describes his divine election as king because of his encounter with the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend.

“You don’t vote for kings,” Arthur tells them. It’s true. Kings aren’t elected officials. However, they certainly expect their subjects’ loyalty. But, in a world and culture where we no longer recognize the real authority of monarchs, what are we to take away from today’s “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”?

All month, we have reflected on this theme of “Consumer or Consumed?” In our spiritual life, we can run into the tendency to look at our relationship with God as a “what’s-in-it-for-me?” proposition. This is the attitude of a consumer; it is self-centered and self-exalting. Today, at the ending of the Liturgical Year, we strive to put things back into perspective – to re-center ourselves – to become God-centered.

Jesus isn’t asking for our “vote,” any more than Arthur expected a vote from those peasants. Jesus is asking for our devotion – our love. The mark of a true disciple is to be consumed by dedication to Him. Simply saying “Jesus is my Lord” doesn’t cut it. When everyone is looking, we can certainly give the “right” answer to the questions. When Jesus asks us directly, “Am I your Lord?” we can certainly say “Yes.”

However, our character – our true self – is revealed when no one is looking – when no one is asking – when there’s nothing in it for me. This is the lesson of the Gospel today. Those who are cast into eternal punishment are the ones who do not claim Jesus as King. How so? Certainly, if they had known that Jesus was that person who needed food or drink, who was naked or alone, who was sick or imprisoned, they would have readily served their needs. But what would the motivation have been? Their attitude was one of a consumer. Surely, if it were profitable to them to care they would have done so. However, that’s not what they saw when no one was looking.

Equally interesting, however, is the reaction of the blessed. They are shocked that they had cared for Jesus’ needs when He tells them so. “When did we do so?” they ask, bewildered. “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Believe it or not, we are called to “vote” for our King. But this is not a matter of a one-time right answer or choice. Rather, our vote flows first from the assertion that Jesus is everything to us. He must be everything to us – so much so that we see Him in each encounter that we have, when people are looking and when they are not. When it serves our purposes and when it does not.

We “vote” about our priorities and values all the time. When we spend our money on certain products or pursuits, we vote. When we advertise or broadcast our favorite sports team or band or beer on a T-shirt, we vote. When we speak a certain way about this or that person, we vote. When we share a photo or story or status on Facebook, we vote.

So how do we vote for Jesus our King?

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Behavior like this shows that we are consumed with love of Jesus, and ultimately it is the criteria on which we are judged - not on what we gained, but how much we loved.

Supreme executive power does not come from “farcical aquatic ceremonies.” It doesn’t come from surface appearances at all. Supreme power comes from love – that is why Jesus is our King, and that is why we should act as He asks: out of love.

As we go through our week, let’s ask ourselves the question: Is this who I am? Is this reflecting my King? Does this reveal that I am consumed by love of Christ?

We don’t vote for Him with a t-shirt or a ballot box or a button.

We vote with our lives.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Church Consumed

This weekend’s celebration of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica needs to be put into context for many of us. Does anyone know who St. John Lateran was? No one? Good. There is no such person.


The basilica that we are celebrating today is actually one that dates back to the early days of Christianity in Rome, when Emperor Constantine legalized the observance of our faith and had a church built and given to the Bishop of Rome in the early Fourth Century. It was constructed in the neighborhood named for a prominent family – the “Lateranus” family. Thus, the basilica, when dedicated, was named in honor of the “Most Holy Savior.” Later, in the early Middle Ages, a baptistery was added, and the church was rededicated, adding St. John the Baptist to the name of the basilica. Still later in the Middle Ages, the church was again dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. So, the official title of the church we are celebrating today is the “Papal Arch-basilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.”

The Lateran Basilica is also the pope’s cathedral in Rome, because it is where his chair, or cathedra, is located. It is the symbol of the unity of faith that we enjoy as a Roman Catholic Church. We celebrate its dedication today throughout the world because we are members of this Church, and together – as St. Paul says – we “are God’s building.”

This month, we are reflecting on the theme of whether we are Consumers or Consumed by God’s love and holy will. This feast day is appropriate, particularly in light of the readings that we have just heard.

In the First Reading, the prophet Ezekiel is having a vision of the holy Temple in Jerusalem – the center of worship and the dwelling place of God. He sees the waters flowing out of the Temple to the east and the south. Now, rather than this being a maintenance issue, it is instead a joyful vision. Those waters flow out from that dwelling place and they bring life wherever they flow. The waters transform everything they touch – even making the salty sea fresh.

Friends, we are those waters here. In this holy temple, we come to be transformed by God, and then we are sent out, like waters flowing in a desert, to bring life to all whom we encounter. We become agents of the transformation that God wills for our world. But in order to do this, we must be transformed ourselves – we need to be consumed by God’s love and life, and then we must take that life to our community. Imagine a community here where everyone – all our neighbors and friends – know of God’s great love for them! I want to live in that community!

Jesus enters that same Temple today in the Gospel. There, He finds consumers – not people consumed by God. It infuriates the Lord, and He drives them out. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Jesus cries out. And to punctuate that, John adds that the disciples recalled the words of Scripture that underlie Christ’s actions: “Zeal for your house will consume me."

This is the attitude that we must have here; we must be consumed by love of God and the transformation that we experience here. When we encounter Jesus, we are changed. We don’t simply come to this place to conduct some sort of spiritual transaction, or to check off some item on a list so we can say we are good Catholics. We are here to be consumed; and we are consumed to become those flowing waters that will transform our world.

The only way this is possible is if we encounter Jesus over and over again. We meet Him in the Blessed Sacrament, we meet Him in prayer, we meet Him in our brothers and sisters. Through these encounters, we are built up, together, into “God’s building.” But the only foundation that can be meaningful for us, the only foundation that will stand, is that of Jesus Christ. I think it is significant for this feast that the church whose dedication we celebrate is first and foremost dedicated to the Most Holy Savior – and then the two St. Johns.

We are the Church. None of our bricks and mortar, none of the stained glass and marble, none of the statues, paintings, or organs mean anything if we are not built into that living temple where the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell most comfortably. We are the house for whom Jesus’ heart burns with zeal. We are the flowing waters that will transform our families, our community, our world.

Before we can do any of this, we must be consumed ourselves. We don’t benefit from a consumer mentality when it comes to church. We are called to encounter Christ and to be changed by that encounter. This is the heart of evangelization; it is the heart of the Church – a community of people who are consumed by God’s love and who share that love with all we meet.

Over the doors of the Lateran Basilica are the words declaring it the “mother and head of all the churches in the city and in the world.” Today, we celebrate that unity of faith that flows forth from that place and every place where Christians encounter Jesus and then go and share Him with the world.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Remember: God Strengthens You

When I was starting out in seminary, we all had to first study philosophy before moving on to Theology. Most of our theological concepts are rooted in the western philosophical tradition. Therefore, we studied Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine, as well as Descartes, Kant and Kierkegaard. At St. Mary’s Seminary, we had a crazy-brilliant teacher who loved to plant “time bombs” that he said would “explode” at some later date. He often did this at Mass in his homilies as well.

One day, he preached a five-word homily – so I remember it. He said, “Love is not a sandwich.” And then he sat down. I can’t for the life of me remember what the Gospel was that day, but I do remember that.

Later, when guys pressed him to explain his cryptic message, he simply said, “If I have a sandwich, and I give you half, I am left with half a sandwich.”

Are you following this?

Well, here’s that “time bomb” going off. Love is not diminished by sharing it. Paradoxically, it even grows by being given away.

This weekend, we come to the end of our series “Remember.” For the past four weeks, we have been reflecting on four important truths that we should never forget: God loves you; God forgives you; God calls you; and now, God strengthens you. Each of these truths flows from a realization of an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, since it is He who shows us God’s human face and reveals us to ourselves.

Today, after reflecting on these important truths of how much God loves us, we are confronted with a pretty significant challenge. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. [and] You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

While loving God and neighbor may not seem like such a challenge, we have to think hard about how good we are at abandoning ourselves to love. Do we trust easily? Do we trust God easily? Love is certainly precious, and we often are reserved when it comes to whom we love and whom we trust. However, Jesus’ reminder of these greatest commandments brings the challenge back in stark reality. Nothing should hold us back from loving God and neighbor.

Can we do this? Or, are we afraid that we will have nothing left if we do so? When we hear God call us, are we reserved in responding because we are worried about losing ourselves? This is not the case with real love – love is not a sandwich!

If we take Jesus up on His invitation today, we will find that we receive far more than we give. Mother Teresa would say, “When you love until it hurts, eventually there is no more hurt – only love.” This is due to this fourth great truth we must remember: God strengthens you.

God strengthens us when we give ourselves over to His will – especially when we feel we have no more strength ourselves. In fact, it was at His most vulnerable moment in His life - on the Cross - that the greatness of God's power was unleashed on the world.  St. Paul certainly knew this strength; Paul’s listeners would learn this, as would we, as he writes today, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers.” Abandoning ourselves to God is the true source of the strength of a Christian – and, that is how we gain the strength to share Christ’s love and life with others. It's how we become evangelizers.

There is great joy in following God’s will as He calls us to great things. While there might be fear and hesitation remembering this truth – that God will give you the strength to do what He calls you to – can be a source of great grace and comfort. We become capable of sharing Christ, while at the same time seeing His life grow within us through that very sharing.

Last week, Pope Francis celebrated the beatification of Pope Paul VI. In his homily, he pointed to  the blessed pope’s ability to trust God and allow Him to strengthen him. He said,
In his personal journal, [Paul VI] wrote, at the conclusion of [Vatican II]: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and savior” .... In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.
None of us, on our own, is fit for God’s service. It is only through the strength provided by God that we can do the things that we are called to do. However, because our God loves us, because He has forgiven us, because He has called us, He is the one who will give that strength. And He promises to do it. It’s a promise that is renewed each time we come here to His table and share this Eucharist.

Love is not a sandwich. It is a challenge. It is a gift – a gift that grows as we share it – a gift that brings us the life and strength of God to become the people we were loved and made to be.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Remember: God Calls You

I don’t write many checks anymore; most of my bill paying is done online. However, when I do, I have yet to have an establishment deny the check. It’s amazing, really: here is a 3x6-inch piece of paper, with my name, my bank’s name, and my signature on it, and it is worth whatever amount I write on it (assuming that I have the funds in the bank). Basically, this check is worth $52.17 simply because I say it is (and the bank, of course, agrees).

Much of the value attached to things in our lives comes from what we assign to it – from our monetary system to a timeworn teddy bear. How much we cherish something dictates how we treat it. And, our care for someone guides how we love them and what we expect from them. This is true of us because it is true of God. This weekend, we are recalling another important truth of our relationship with God – who loves us, forgives us, and now calls us.

Our First Reading gives us the prophet speaking to King Cyrus of Persia – a non-believer – as the Lord’s anointed. This is significant, since the word "Messiah" means anointed. King David, Israel's hero, is "the Lord's anointed," as is Solomon. In Greek, it is translated as "Christ."  Cyrus has been chosen and called by God to be a special player in the salvation of Israel. After Cyrus and his forces conquered Babylon, the Persians allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland – God working again through those whom He calls.

This is our God – a God who loves us. He has created us all in His image – marked us with His seal, the very life of the Trinity – and through that image we come to know Him. Jesus, the Son of God, the Word-made-flesh, reveals God to us in a unique and final way. He also reveals to us our true selves. If we want to see who we are called to be, we must meet and know Christ; we must look to Him.

In the Gospel, as the Pharisees and others seek to trap Jesus in yet another conundrum, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach us something truly profound. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” He asks. The tax coin bore an image of Tiberius Caesar and an inscription that read “Tiberius Caesar, exalted son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” It was minted by and for Rome, and it was the only acceptable payment of the tax to which they were referring. They certainly wouldn't take a check!

While the leaders’ question was meant to trick Jesus into either favoring the occupying government or endorsing financial rebellion, He actually ignores the question at heart and changes the focus to images. In other words, if the coin bears Caesar’s image, then it belongs to Caesar. The tax is, in effect, Caesar "calling" his coins back to himself. However, other things - things that belong to God -  are meant to be given to God. So, if we bear that image of God, then we owe ourselves to Him!

But what do we owe? This is not something that we ourselves determine. We must listen to God to hear what it is that He calls us to be. When we were created, God had a beautiful plan in mind for our lives – a plan that is meant to see us be fully alive and happy with Him. Because of His great love for us, God has chosen us for great things – just like He did Cyrus, just like He did Paul and his companions. We are all made in God’s image in order to show that image to others in our world and to remind them of the great things to which they too are called.

We call this “calling” our vocations. It is what we were made to do, what we were made to be. At the very heart of it, however, we are called to reflect that image of God in each of us. “Repay … to God what belongs to God,” Jesus tells us. We bear His likeness when we resemble more closely that face of Christ.

Remember: God calls you. He calls you to a special purpose at this special time. Most of us assume we are doing what God has called us to do; however, we can strive to know that ever better if we focus on this person of Jesus – if we share a real, personal relationship with Him. He is the one, after all, who is calling us. Therefore, we should dedicate ourselves even more to time spent in prayer. Take time to talk with Jesus; ask Him what His will is for you; pray for the grace and courage to be able to do that will more boldly in your world.

Second, we must remember that we are above all called to be holy. Holiness is not a pursuit of the few, the “saintly.” It is the call of every one of the baptized. When we are more fully who God calls us to be we are that much closer to holiness; and that holiness becomes a sign to others.

Finally, we are called to be a community of faith. We are not simply loners on this road to holiness. We share in the communion of Saints, and we taste that most fully here on earth at the Eucharistic table. When we come here, we join our voices and spirits together in support of the Body of Christ, and we are all nourished to be strong in following the will of God – that special call that we’ve each received.

Don’t forget: God has called you. He continues to call you. He has placed His special mark on you because he cherishes you and values you above all other things. Open yourself to make good on your payment – because it is the most important investment you’ll ever make, and God will be happy to cash your check for you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Remember: Mercy

How many people here remember when Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981? I remember watching it at home on TV (I was almost nine years old). I recall seeing Westminster Abbey and that long train on Di’s dress that stretched almost the entire aisle. Mostly, I remember all the people who were there; the place was packed. I don’t recall the same feeling when Prince William married Kate Middleton, but I know that it was also a huge event. Imagine being invited to that wedding. Who in their right mind would refuse an invitation to the wedding of the century?

Well, today Jesus tells a parable about just that situation. The king, no less, invited friends to his son’s wedding feast; and all of them – all of them! – declined the invitation. What’s more, some of them even mistreated and killed the servants who brought the invitations. Why? Why on earth would these people act this way?

We must first assume that those invited were considered friends of the king. As a parable meant to reveal the nature of God and the Kingdom, these are those who are called and welcomed by God. They have a “rightful” place at that banquet. However, they are not ready for the feast – they find excuses to engage in their own pursuits, their own business. When pressed (or, perhaps, when made to feel guilty) by the second invitation, they react angrily – even killing the messengers. What does this mean?

We are those called and invited to the feast. We all have a “rightful” place here; there are others who are not here who also have a rightful place here. However, do we take that place for granted – assuming that it will always be there, waiting for us, even after we finish our own pursuits? Have we placed a relationship with the King second (or third, or fourth…) to our “business”? In short, has what is easy and comfortable taken the place of what is right and just as far as our relationship with God is concerned? Have we sinned? These are questions that anyone who wishes to have a real personal relationship with Christ must ask himself or herself from time to time. 

n the end, those who were invited are finally excluded and punished, and others are invited and welcomed to the feast.

Our parable today reminds us of the dangers of taking a personal relationship with the Lord for granted – of slipping into complacency in the practice and celebration of our faith. We hear harsh words from Jesus about punishment, but at the same time encouraging words for those who might have felt left out before. These words point us to something very important to remember: God forgives us. But, how can we talk about this forgiveness when we hear so clearly of the punishment that befalls those who forget about God?

Well, let’s look at a very simple fact: God loves us all; and He invites us to the banquet of life and love that we celebrate. We have a rightful place here. When we fail, we have a remedy – one that doesn’t come from our own doing, but from that very love of God: His Mercy.

It is a mistake to assume that everything will be waiting for us after we’ve been able to “do our thing.” However, as Pope St. John XXIII said (on this day, 52 years ago!),
“The Church has always opposed these errors [of humanity]. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations” (St. John XXIII, Opening Speech for Second Vatican Council, 11 Oct 1962).
This "remedy of mercy" - the Mercy of God - welcomes us back to His table and reunites us with the Body of Christ. It is what we celebrate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus is that Mercy of God made incarnate, and through Him we have the opportunity to personally encounter God’s Mercy as intimately as the embrace of a loved one.

We cannot take such love for granted. Through His love for us, Jesus has made available the gift of God’s Mercy, which conquers any sin. Pope St. John Paul II, in his second encyclical wrote:
No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy [like that of those wedding guests in our parable], opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion (St. John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 13).
It is just this sort of conversion that God wants us to remember. We have the ability to turn again toward God and be welcomed back to the feast in the encounter with Jesus who is God’s Mercy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is where this encounter happens most dramatically, and Fr. Greg and I want to make it available to you this week in a special way. On Wednesday, from 4 to 6pm, we will be hearing confessions in the chapel at Our Lady of Hope; and from 6:30 to 8:30pm, we will be at St. Luke’s. As always, confessions are heard an hour prior to Saturday evening Masses.

Remember: God forgives you! Take a moment this week to celebrate that beautiful fact, and realize that you are called and welcomed back to your rightful place and invited again to the banquet of the Lord. Don’t lose your invitation!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Remember: God Loves You!

Memory is a major element of who we are. In fact, some people would say that, as far as our self-perception is concerned, our memory is who we are. When people lose their memory, they have a looser grasp on their identity. In the movies, we see when people are stricken with amnesia, they often ask, “Where am I?” “Who am I?” Memory is an essential part of our identity. This is true on an individual, personal level, as well as on a communal level.

As Christians, so much of our celebrated life together centers on remembering. Our central celebration of the Eucharist calls us to reflect on the words “Do this in memory of Me.” In order to realize how blessed we are, we must remember what God has done for us – if we are to have any sort of hope for the future.

This month, we will reflect in our homilies on four things we should never forget as Christians: 1) God loves us; 2) God forgives us; 3) God calls us; and 4) God strengthens us. These four things should empower us and help us to live confidently and joyfully as disciples of Jesus. Keeping these things in mind will make us better evangelizers of our communities and world.

So let’s get to it.

The first and most basic thing that a Christian must remember is that God loves you. This might seem trite and cute – suitable for a bumper sticker or a nice crocheted plaque for a kid’s bedroom; however, it is immensely important and profound.

God doesn’t just love “humanity,” or “all people,” or even “us.” God loves you! He loves you personally, deeply, infinitely, and uniquely. This is not some general, blanket statement, or a generic premise (God loves human begins/I am a human being/Therefore, God loves me); it is a truth of the universe, and God always abides by this love. How many of us feel this way? How many of us know that God is thinking about me right now, and has always been thinking about me? Why? Because He loves me!

With this in mind, let’s look at the readings again. In both the First Reading and the Gospel, we are given an image of God creating His vineyard. Maybe, as we hear these two readings, we take away the image of the punishment that is wrought upon those who fail in caring for the vineyard. However, when I reflect in them, with the idea that God wholly and eternally loves me, I am drawn to see the tender care that the “friend” and “landowner” put into their vineyard. Imagine the love that was in their hearts as they laid the groundwork for the hedges and walls; the hope as they planted the first vines. This is God’s love for you. God smiles when He thinks of you and the good things for which he made you.

All around us, we see the evidence of God’s love for us – each one of us. All that we see: the sunlight that brings us joy; the crisp autumn air; the beautiful colors of the fall leaves; our loved ones’ laughter – it’s all evidence of God’s immense, personal love for each of us.

When we are truly aware of how much God loves us – and that this love is personal and unique – then we begin to see life differently. We recognize blessings where we have not seen them before. This allows us to live joyfully alert to the ways in which God is making Himself known to us and to others. It will allow us to share that love with the world – to evangelize. St. Paul is aware of this, and he wants his hearers to know it also when he writes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

If we are calling ourselves Christians – followers and disciples of Jesus Christ – then we must live differently. This begins, however, with an awareness of some pretty awesome facts. The most basic of these facts is that God – the God of the universe, eternal, omnipotent – loves us beyond words. Remember this fact. Recall it often. With each sunrise, realize that God has placed you here and now for a reason, and that reason is His great love for you. Every breath is a gift of love, planned for all eternity and given to you at just this moment, because He loves you.

When we bring to mind these facts, we remember who we are: children of a loving God who calls us to share that love with everyone we meet.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Leaving "Drama-topia"

I once told a friend that I spend half my time looking for people’s “buttons,” and the other half of my time pushing them.

I’m bad. This is a flaw that I have that I am committed to working on with God’s grace, but sometimes, it is so entertaining to see people go off when their hot-buttons are pressed, isn’t it? How about you? Are there things that just set you off? If someone decides to start talking politics in Dunkin Donuts, does your blood pressure begin to spike? Is the quality of your week determined by what the Ravens do (or don’t do) on Sunday? If you see one more sock on the floor or toilet seat up will they be calling the men in the white coats?

Is someone wrong on Facebook right now?

If this is you – and it is me, and many others – then you live in “Drama-topia.” It’s a place where there are no “little things.” Everything is life and death; everything is infinitely significant; everything drives everyone else nuts. Drama-topia is a place where we cannot let a comment pass without a rebuttal; it’s a place where attention is the greatest currency; and it is a place in which not many of its citizens are happy.

Isn’t it time we said, “Goodbye” to Drama-topia?

In 1997, a book came out entitled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and It’s All Small Stuff. In it, the author tries to assist the reader to realize that focusing on the simple beauty of life –the basics – can lead us to greater happiness. At one point he writes: “When you take time, often to reflect on the miracle of life … the gift of sight, of love and all the rest, it can help to remind you that many of the things that you think as ‘big stuff’ are really just ‘small stuff’ that you are turning into big stuff.”

Turning small stuff into big stuff is what carries us off to Drama-topia. And this is nothing new. Even in the early Church, there was drama; there was conflict. Jesus gives His followers advice on how to deal with this difficulty. When the problem of someone misbehaving comes up, Jesus tells us, do not cry out and rage on CNN or FOX about it. Rather, “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” There is much more to be gained through that human and personal interaction than posting a rant on Facebook!

Even if that initial conversation does not convince the brother or sister of the right way, we are still not to draw attention to them and ourselves by screaming and shouting. Instead, we are to rely on the wisdom of our community of charity – the Church – and “take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”

Jesus understands our humanity; He shares our humanity. And yet, He does not wish to share in the drama that drags so many of us into negativity and criticism. Rather, our goal as a Christian community and as Christian individuals is to help one another in charity – even when we or they are wrong – to find the right path again.

This should not be complicated; however, we do make it complicated through drama – through making big stuff out of the small stuff. We need to hear St. Paul’s advice again today when he tells us, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments … are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

So, the road out of Drama-topia is paved with Love. In Drama-topia, nothing is more significant or important that what is happening to me right now. However, when we take on the Christ-like attitude of thinking of others first – of their good – then we begin to follow that road that leads us to freedom from negativity and criticism.

This week, let’s practice leaving Drama-topia. Let’s still our hearts with a commitment to regular prayer, and let’s assume that our brothers and sisters might actually have good intentions behind what they do our don’t do. Let’s love one another first and foremost and be channels for God’s peace in our homes, schools and workplaces. Over the next few weeks, together, we are going to work at eliminating the drama in our lives so that we can begin truly living for Jesus Christ, Who calls us to that fullness of life that we all deserve – and, honestly, isn’t that what we are all seeking?

As we receive the Eucharist, we encounter God’s greatest Drama – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. In this great Drama, we have been freed from the pettiness that grips humanity. The Cross is the Way that we escape our own Drama-topias.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Puppies in the House

I consider myself to be relatively conservative in my own views. That is not to say that I am obstinate or even stubborn, as that label often connotes. However, once I have made up my mind, I tend to remain in that mindset. So, as I read and prayed over this weekend’s gospel I have been surprised by God’s revelation to me.

It is probably our view that Jesus was certain and resolute in His ministry – always knowing what He was doing and how He would do it. He even seems to give us indications that this is the case. Even today, as this Canaanite woman approaches Him, He is quite blunt about it: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When the distressed woman continues to plead with Him to heal her daughter, Jesus is even more blunt: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Ouch!

Did the Lord just insult that woman?

Yes, He did. She was an “outsider” – a woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon (non-Jewish territory). What on earth is this Jesus doing?

As I said, Jesus knew what His mission was as He began His ministry. He came to save the world; but He came specifically to remind God’s Chosen People, Israel, of the love that the Lord has for them. Therefore, He travelled from Galilee to Judea and back and forth spreading His message of the Reign of God.

And many of the Jews rejoiced in this message.

However, there were others who heard about Jesus. News like His could not be kept hidden. This Canaanite woman knew that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, and she risked the scorn that here status as a foreigner would bring in order to see this wonder-worker from Galilee and get help for her daughter.

Even in the face of the apparent harshness of Jesus’ response to her, she continues to risk even more abuse for the sake of her daughter – for she knew that only in Jesus could she find the assistance and salvation that she needed. Her clever reply touches Christ: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

What a touching scene! This woman completely disregards herself, her pride, her ego, in order to continue to access Jesus. What is cute is that the word here for “dog” that both Jesus and the woman use is better translated as “puppies.” Further, these would not be wild, stray mutts, but housedogs or pets. They have a place in the home, even if they are dogs.

It is this woman’s response that gets to the Lord. He is amazed at her faith, surprised at how great it is. The Lord is shocked, even.

And Jesus changes His mind.

At the beginning of this gospel, Christ was certain that He was doing the right thing in sharing His message and healing ministry only with Israel. Now, in light of this woman’s beautiful and powerful faith, He now understands that even “outsiders” have a place at that table of the Lord. He allows His human mind to be opened and His human heart to be touched. Here, the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear in the First Reading:
The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, … them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
What do I learn from this gospel?

First, all are invited to the table of the Lord. This is the place where God speaks His loving and saving Word to us, through which we are saved, and this salvation is for all people – not just “insiders.”

Second, it’s okay to change your mind – provided it is done in faith and complete reliance on the grace of God at work in and around you. Jesus allowed the Father to speak to Him through the faith-filled pleading of this mother. It is the Lord’s human heart that allowed His human mind to open to the reality of the Reign of God embracing all people, even at that moment. The work of salvation was unfolding already, and here we see the joyful news of our own inclusion on that “holy mountain.”

Finally, I learn that each encounter – every moment lived with faith – every occasion of ministry – is a learning experience. God has not finished speaking to you and me. With this sort of divine open-mindedness we are sent into our world to recognize the gift of God to the world that will also be revealed through us.

The "puppies" finally rejoice to be part of the family – I will never feel guilty about sharing my dinner with them again!

Monday, August 4, 2014

What Are Your Loaves and Fishes?


Dóte autoís humeís phageín.

I’ve been praying over this gospel all week long, and these words of Jesus continue to come back to me … and they challenge me.

Dóte autoís humeís phageín. Our translation of the gospel words that we hear today is “Give them [some food] yourselves.” It’s a correct translation. However, the Greek, as usual, carries a richer meaning. In telling the disciples to give them something themselves, Jesus is emphasizing the fact that He wants them to be the agents of this great gift. It may also be translated, “Give them of yourselves to eat.”

In other words, “what have you got, guys? Share that.”

That’s when the complaining begins. The disciples’ first response to Jesus’ command to them is a complaint – whining: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” There’s an apparent food shortage, and naïve Jesus cannot really hope that these few men can feed all those people, can He? They had already complained at seeing all the people in the first place. When Jesus’ heart is moved with pity, their response is “Send them away.”

The disciples are keenly aware of their shortcomings, and they don’t want them to affect their relationship with the crowd, so they simply want to send them away in the face of their lack. As your pastor, I understand this lack.

Tasked with the job of shepherding two parishes, I often look at my gifts and talents and see the same sort of shortage that the Apostles knew that day. I am not wise enough to make all the best decisions for you. I am not energetic enough to be as involved in everyone’s lives as I’d like. I am not talented enough to forge one community of faith out of two parishes.

But here’s where my prayer this week has borne tremendous fruit:

No pastor is.

No pastor is wise enough, smart enough, energetic enough, or talented enough! At least, none of us are on our own. And this is the danger of the loaves and fishes view that the disciples first take. When Jesus tells them to give them of themselves to eat, they automatically forget the One who feeds us all. They see their food shortage, and they fear and they complain.

However, Jesus continues to respond in love and generosity. Rather than saying, “Oh! I didn’t realize you only had that little bit!” Jesus simply tells them to bring those meager gifts to Him.

And He blesses, breaks, and shares the five loaves and two fish – first with the disciples, who in turn now share them with the crowd.

And they all ate and were satisfied. In fact, the word is really “super-satisfied” – they were filled to a point that they could’ve had more if they wanted – as evidenced by the twelve baskets full afterward. And here is the lesson of the loaves and fish for us. When we share what we have with Jesus, He blesses it, returns it to us, and bids us to share it with others.

Again, as pastor I am not the most gifted, most talented, or wisest part of our faith community. I do not have all the gifts necessary to make our parishes great. But the gifts are here! You have them too! When we look at what God calls us to do as a community, we should not start by complaining about our shortage of resources. Rather, we should remember that we are a community of faith gathered around Christ our Head, who asks us to give of ourselves to others so that they may also know His love and care.

On a social level, we see this opportunity amid the crisis of refugees on our southern border. While many call them “illegal immigrants,” they are also refugees, many of whom are children in need of love and simple food and housing. While they are among us, we have an opportunity to show the values that make us strong as a nation. This is not a political or a government thing, it is an American thing, it is a Christian thing, it is a human thing – the love and care of our brothers and sisters among us.

But we bring it back to our community. What are your loaves and fishes? What meager gifts to you possess that Jesus is calling you to share? To follow Him fully in this regard, it takes three things:

First, it takes awareness – awareness of what gifts we have (and what we do not have). When we know what we are working with, we can know what Jesus is calling us to share.

Second, it takes trust – trust that Jesus knows what He is doing and what He is asking us to do.

Finally, it takes generosity. The disciples could have said, “Well, we have fiv- four loaves. Yeah. And one fish.” And they could have held some back for themselves. But ultimately, the gift shared is always greater than that which is given. Remember this when we are serving our community!

So, "Dóte autoís humeís phageín" - Give to them of yourselves to eat. It’s a challenge – but it ultimately will become a great blessing.