Wednesday, July 25, 2018

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today and for the next four Sundays, our gospel readings are from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel.  The chapter begins with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that we hear today, the only miracle story that occurs in all four gospels (Matt. 14:13-21; Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 6:35-44, and Luke 9:1-17).   John uses this story to frame Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life and to teach us about the Eucharist.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that, “the miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist” (CCC 1335).

We are all so familiar with this beautiful story that it is easy to overlook some of the important details.  We get the big picture but there is a lot to consider in this event.  One of the more notable details is that Jesus did not perform this miracle on his own.  He had many helpers including the disciples, particularly Philip and Andrew, the boy with the loaves and fishes and the 5000 or more people who participated in the meal.   Without all these people, the story would be incomplete.  The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was a shared community experience.

In a similar way, Eucharist is a shared community experience for us.  The Catechism teaches us that, “Christians come together in one place for the Eucharistic assembly. At its head is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi capitis) presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer. All have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose "Amen" manifests their participation” (CCC 1348).

Just as the people gathered around Jesus on the side of that mountain near the Sea of Galilee were nourished physically and spiritually by the five barley loaves and two fishes Jesus distributed, so the Eucharist we receive here nourishes us physically and spiritually.  Jesus himself feeds us and draws us into “unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”  (Ephesians 4:3-6).

O God, you open wide your hand,
giving us food in due season.
Out of your never-failing abundance,
satisfy the hungers of body and soul
and lead all peoples of the earth
to the feast of the world to come.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Monday, July 16, 2018

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jeremiah was delivering his prophecies from about 628 BC to 586 BC, the people of Israel considered God their Great Shepherd.  The leaders of Israel were also called shepherds. It was their duty to care for the people of Israel just as God cared for them. The duty of shepherds was to keep their flock intact and protect it from predators and to supervise the migration of the flock and ensure they made it to market areas in time for shearing.

It is clear from our first reading today, Jeremiah 12:1-6, that Israel’s leadership in the 6th Century BC was not doing a very good job tending their sheep.  So, God, through Jeremiah, promised to appoint shepherds “who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing.”  Ultimately God sent Jesus, The Good Shepherd, who, as we are told in our 2nd reading for today from Ephesians 2:13-18, draws us (sheep) closer to the Father through the Spirit and through the sacrifice of His blood.

Each one of us, as a disciple of Jesus, and an adopted daughter or son of God the Father, is called to be a good and caring shepherd.  We all have our own flocks to tend: the people in our families, the people we work with, the people we worship with, the people we pray with, the people in our neighborhoods, and the people in Peachtree City.  We could also include the people in Georgia, the people in the United States, and all the people in the world.  

As God’s special shepherds on earth we have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable sheep in our world.  But we also must assure that we give ourselves the time we need to nurture ourselves spiritually as well as physically.  Following the example of Jesus, we must make time for prayer, for reflection and for quiet so we can hear the voice of God. 

As we gather again, O God, 
on this first day of the week, 
grant your church the joy of tasting again 
the living presence of Jesus Christ, 
in the word that is proclaimed 
and in the bread of life that we break. 

Let us recognize in him 
the true prophet and shepherd 
who guides us to the springs of eternal life. 
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God for ever and ever. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends the disciples out on their first mission to preach repentance, cure the sick and expel unclean spirits.   We do not know exactly where the disciples went or how long they were gone, but we do know that sometime later they reported to Jesus “all they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30).  The disciples, sent out two by two, traveled lightly, stayed with locals and apparently were very successful in their first missionary experience.  At this point in their spiritual development, the disciples became apostles.

A disciple is a follower or an imitator of someone, in this case a follower of Christ.  An apostle is a special messenger or an envoy, chosen and trained to fulfill a specific mission, spreading the good news.  The word apostle (apostolos) is Greek.  Translated into Latin, it is missio, from which we get the word missionary.  As baptized Christians, we are called to be both disciples and apostles.  We hear and accept the teaching of Jesus and then we share our faith with others.  In our second reading today from Ephesians 1:3-14, St. Paul reminds us that  each one of us is “chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.”  

Our Church has an apostolic mission as well.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is "sent out" into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. "The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well." Indeed, we call an apostolate" every activity of the Mystical Body" that aims "to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth" (CCC 863). 

God placed us in Peachtree City, Georgia.  Our mission is to share the good news of the Kingdom of Christ right here. 

God of justice and mercy,
you have set us free from the evil of sin
by the life and death and rising again
of your living reflection and Word,
Jesus Christ.
Let his life and message inspire us
to voice his truth and bring his freedom
to everyone on this earth.
Give us no other assurance
than that we proclaim his Good News
and that our companion on the road is
your own Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Back in 1651 Thomas Hobbs an English philosopher and political scientist produced his most seminal work, Levianthan.  I am not going to bore you with a discussion about Livianthian but one very famous line from the book popped into my head when I was reflecting on  today’s gospel from Mark 6:1-6. Hobbs believed that in its natural state (chaos and war) “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  In many ways this statement sums up the life of the prophet.

Early in his ministry Jesus went home.  And, as usual he went to his local synagogue to teach.  The locals were offended. Their response was basically, who does he think he is?  “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?”  Jesus’ response was,  “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”  Because of their “lack of faith,” Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”

At least the home crowd did not try to kill Jesus as happened in many other places where he taught.  But ultimately, Jesus’ teaching and miracle working resulted in his crucifixion.  Most prophets meet with similar fates.  All three of today’s readings talk about the difficulty prophets face.  God told Ezekiel that the people to whom he was sent were “hard of face and obstinate of heart” (Ez 2:4). And St. Paul had  to contend with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ” (2 Cor 12:10).

Modern prophets don’t fare much better.  Consider Martin Luther King Jr., Blessed Oscar Romero, Sr. Dorothy Stang, S.N.D. and Sr. Barbara Ann Ford, SC all gunned down for speaking out against injustice.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that "The holy People of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office," above all in the supernatural sense of faith that belongs to the whole People, lay and clergy, when it "unfailingly adheres to this faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints," and when it deepens its understanding and becomes Christ's witness in the midst of this world.

By our baptism we all are called to be prophets.  Being a prophet today isn’t easy.  Like Hobbs’ person living in a state of nature, the modern prophet runs the risk of living a life that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.  But as St. Paul testified in today’s second reading, God gives us the assurance that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Gentle God of power and strength,
you chose us, weak people,
to put the mighty to shame
and to stand up and speak up
with our words and our lives
for what is right and good.

Make us realize more deeply that without your help
our human efforts cannot but fail
and that our very weakness
entitles us to your strength.
Be our courage and joy
through him who was weak with the weak
but lives with you as the Lord of all,
Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord for ever.