Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Quality Time - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

We may well ask ourselves why the disciples did not follow the traditions of the Pharisees, after all they too were Jews raised in the practices of Judaism.  Did they stop following the traditional rituals when they became disciples of Jesus?  Were they rebelling against their traditional rituals because of Jesus’ teachings?

The short answer is - no.  

Jesus’s followers did not follow the rituals as did the Pharisees because of the lives they led.  They were not in the habit of washing before meals or ritually cleaning their cups, bowls and vessels because these practices were not practical to their life style.  As laborers, fishermen, carpenters or outcast sinners like tax collectors, these ritual practices were not realistic in their everyday world.  

Where would these common working folk find clean water to wash or clean cups while fishing in the sea or working in the fields?  As public sinners, why would tax collectors or anyone from any other ‘sinful’ profession, practice these rituals of holiness– what would be the point? As far as the Pharisees were concerned – these sinners could never be acceptable to God?

So, the Pharisee’s criticism against the disciples was really a criticism against Jesus for not gathering the righteous as His followers. Pharisees, who through their privileged lives, were able to follow the rules of righteousness: Rules of holy practice, where they had the time do follow the rituals and impress one another with their elaborate outward signs of holiness. These were just too impractical for the common person to follow.  

The faith rituals of the Pharisee’s were only for those whose life styles afforded them the time to practice.  To them, God’s love was not for the common man, the lowly, the poor, the working class because those people, made unclean by their lifestyles of labor, were unable to follow the rules. Therefore, these disciples of Jesus could not be considered righteous enough to follow a true prophet.

The Pharisees lost sight of the real purpose behind their devotion to God.  They allowed following the rules to replace true faith in and worship of God.  For them it was easier to perform outward signs of holiness than to be filled with the Spirit of God.  Their rituals replaced turning to their Creator in prayer and contemplation to love and praise Him for all He had done for them.  Their outward signs of ritual served only to show others their faith; replacing their inner devotion to God.

In our own lives, do we take time to examine our faith practices?  Do we ask ourselves if our faith practices and rituals lead us into an ever closer relationship with God?  Do we renew and refresh our faith devotions, so they lead us into a deeper and ever more fruitful relationship with our Lord?

One of my pet peeves in my daily travels to Newark is seeing young people wearing the Rosary around their necks, like jewelry.  I like to delude myself that the Arch-Diocese is having a resurgence in vocations or their new evangelizing efforts are truly amazing, but sadly I come to realize it is just a cool thing, an accessorizing thing, among the young.  I’m often tempted to ask them if they pray that Rosary.  (This may be a good starting point for evangelizing.)

In our lives, when we say the Rosary, do we sometimes rush through the prayers to ‘get-'er-done' or do we make the time to really contemplate on the mysteries?  

  • Do we carry a Rosary because it’s what Catholics do or do we take the time to say the prayers; allowing them to lead us into a deeper communion with Jesus in our devotion and supplications through Mary, His Mother?
  • Do we make the sign of the cross as we pass in front of a Catholic Church?  If we practice this devotion, is it merely a rote reaction or do we take that moment to remind ourselves of our Lord’s loving sacrifice on the cross and His presence in the Tabernacle?
  • When we pray, do we focus on speaking and listening to the Lord or do our thoughts wander to other things?  

Now, just to be perfectly clear - I must confess that this is auto-biographical - I struggle with each of these and more.

I know, we are not nuns living in cloister or monks dedicated to a life of work and prayer within the walls of our monastery – we are living in the world, as is our station in life.  Our lives are our vocation: To live in the world, but to not be part of the world.  To live out this vocation we are called to keep our mind and our heart on God, our Creator and our Savior, Jesus and the Holy Spirit through our devotions and practices.  We do these things so they may lead us into a closer relationship with God.

We all have our work, our families and friends, our interests and activities that constantly demand our attention; calling us away, but we are also called to make room for the Lord in our lives.  Our devotions should always remind us to take that moment to open our hearts to God’s love and spend time with Him, who loves us and is always calling us to return to His embrace.

So, no matter what our station in life or how much time we devote to our Lord, no matter what devotional habits we may practice – do them with sincerity of heart and openness to God.  Be in awe of God’s love.  Spend that moment, that devotional hour, those precious minutes set aside for prayer or whatever other ‘Catholic-thing’ we do - as quality time with the Lord.  Let that time, even if it’s just a quick moment, be fruitful.  Let Him gaze upon you as you contemplate Him and allow His love to penetrate your heart. ~Amen

Deacon Don

Sunday, August 16, 2015

20th Sunday Ordinary Time - John 6:51-58 - "The Goodness of the Lord"

“Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

How do we contemplate on the manna, the bread provided by God for the people in the desert and the Bread of Life found in Jesus Christ?

Manna filled the people’s bodily needs, but did not satisfy their spiritual want.  This bread provided by God for the people came down in response to their complaining of hunger, but was not the bread of salvation.  This was not the Bread of Everlasting Life.  For they ate it, but were still hungry the next day and still died in their time.

While their bellies were filled each day, the manna did not satisfy their spiritual hunger, it did not advance them in the ways of understanding.  Manna was not bread prepared by Wisdom.  Despite all God had done for the people in delivering them from slavery and hardship in Egypt, they still complained against Him.  In their foolishness, they failed to understand the will of God and His great love for them.  Despite all they had witnessed of God’s power and protection; delivering them from the hands of Pharaoh, they persisted in their complaints and grumbling; failing to give thanks to God for all they received.

Manna was not the bread of salvation.  It was not the bread of everlasting life.  Taking this bread into them did not given them more than immediate; fleeting satisfaction.  Each day they had to gather up what God provided and remained foolish, not making the most of the opportunity to understand.

“Whoever eats this bread and drinks this blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.”

Jesus is”  

"(This) . . . is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever."

Jesus is the one who satisfies our hunger and thirst – He is real food and real drink.  Taking in His flesh and drinking His blood brings us eternal life and understanding of the Truth of God.  He is the table prepared by Wisdom, so we may partake and advance in understanding.

Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a reminder to give Thanksgiving to God for all He has done for us and to remember Him: His life, death and resurrection – that brings us salvation and everlasting life.  Eating the body and blood of Jesus is much more than consuming the Eucharist at mass.  Jesus wants us to remember not just what was, but what is: – our newness of life, our life changed forever – our life given to us in baptism, sealed in the Holy Spirit and strengthened in the Eucharist when we take on Christ - Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity.  

The full understanding of taking the Bread of Life within ourselves, I believe is best summed up by the Apostle Paul when he declared, 

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ (who) lives in me; and the life which I now live - in the flesh - I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Our vocation as believers in Jesus Christ is to live in the fullness of all He teaches, imitating His life within our station – loving as we are loved all our brothers and sisters.  We are baptized to live in this world as Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, but not to be of this world - the dominion of the evil-one.  We surrender our lives to Jesus in the Eucharist – taking within ourselves the fullness of His life, death and resurrection: guided by the Spirit; living as He lived – with love, mercy and compassion for all our heavenly Father’s children.  

For Jesus is the Bread of Everlasting Life, food: unlike the manna in the desert that was sufficient only for the day.  He is that everlasting food that satisfies our every need; giving us eternal peace, joy, love and life that leads us home - into the heavenly kingdom, where He lives and reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit – One God forever and ever. ~Amen
Deacon Don

Sunday, August 9, 2015

19th Sunday Ordinary Time - John 6:41-51 - "Feasting on the Bread of Life"

Jesus proclaims, “I am the Bread of Life.”  
”I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

What is this teaching?  What is Jesus saying to us? 

As God fed the Jews in the desert with manna, the ‘bread of angels’, to sustain them on their journey to the promise land, we too are fed by Jesus, the Bread of Life, on our journey toward the heavenly kingdom.  But how are we fed?  How do we ‘eat the flesh’ of Christ?  How do we consume Jesus, taking Him within ourselves, so we may have life?

Of course, we have the Eucharist.  We have the bread and wine consecrated in the sacrifice of the mass, established by Jesus at the Last Supper.  Bread and wine transubstantiated – miraculously changed – becoming His Body and Blood – Soul and Divinity.  The Bread we eat, the flesh of Christ, given for the life of the world.

There is more to our understanding though.  The scholars of Israel saw the Torah, the Law given to them by God, as being bread of heaven.  They consumed this “bread” through study and adherence to the Law of God.  Many of the prophets described their study of God’s Law as ‘eating the scrolls’ upon which God’s Law was written.  The Jewish people understood that this was the only way to God – faithful learning and practice of the Law.  So, the idea of consuming God’s word – eating the bread of God - was already an established concept in the time of Jesus. 

Jesus is the Word of God, the Bread come down from heaven.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We can only come to the Father through Him, who is the Truth of God that leads to eternal Life.  Through Him we come to know God’s love and mercy.  In the giving of his flesh on the cross we have salvation; leading to eternal life.

But how does this Bread of Life act on my life?  
How am I changed when I eat the Bread of Life, the flesh of Jesus Christ?  
What did the Lord mean when He told Elijah to get up and eat the cake He gave him, ‘else the journey will be too long for him’?  
How do we understand the Lord when He said, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God?’

When we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus in the Eucharist, we are called to put on Christ, to surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow God to dwell within us.  We are called to be changed.  We are called to enter into a closer relationship with Jesus; living fully in God’s image and likeness.

To enter into this closer relationship with Jesus: to become His disciple, is to be like the prophets ‘eating the scrolls’.  It is to live more fully in the Lord Jesus as His disciples.  To be His disciple be His follower; bringing His Good News to the world, living as He lived, and loving as He loves.  Discipleship is learning to be like Jesus – watching Him, listening to Him, sharing with Him, imitating Him: entering fully into His life.  Coming into a close, personal relationship with Jesus; calling Him our Lord and Savior.

As with all relationships, we get out of them what we put into them.  If they are casual and occasional relationships, they cannot be called really close and personal – they are more of a nodding acquaintanceship rather than a true relationship.  But if our relationships are filled with interest in and intimate knowledge of the other: marked by daily encounters and intimacy, they become intense and personal: loving, caring and enduring - very much like the relationship Jesus desires to have with each one of us.  

We grow our relationship with Jesus through a lifetime of prayer, reading scripture (to know scripture is to know Christ) and Eucharist, which brings us ever closer to Him.  Our relationship becomes a comfortable friendship, like the relationship God had with Adam and Eve in the Garden before the fall.  As we speak with Jesus, listen to Jesus and be present with Him, we move into this ever closer personal relationship with Him.  

In this way we receive Jesus in the fullest – feasting on the Bread of Life – the food that fills us and satisfies our hunger for the holy.  He is the One who provides for us and the whole world, so we may have enough to eat, “else the journey will be too long” for us as we move toward eternal life. ~Amen

Deacon Don

Sunday, August 2, 2015

18th Sunday Ordinary Time - John 6:24-35 - 'Food for Life'

We are a fickle people.  In this we must be truly amazed at God’s faithfulness and His love for us.

We hear of the Israelites complaining to Moses and Aaron that their new life of liberation was too hard for them.  In slavery they were given food to eat and places to rest – no matter how poor and despicable.  In their short and convenient memory, living in slavery was not so bad compared to their present lives of living in God’s promise of a land of their own and freedom from captivity.  Despite all they witnessed of what God has done for them, they cry out against Him; lacking in faith and trust in His word of promise.
Their immediate comforts take precedence over God’s promise.  The growling in their empty bellies and their parched throats are enough for them to desire a return to their miserable life in slavery over God’s promised gift of freedom.  The expediency of immediate gratification surpasses the sacrifice needed for true liberation and a new life of eternal joy and peace.

During their captivity in Egypt, the people cried out to God to set them free from bondage.  They cried for release from the hardship of their desperate lives, so they may have a new life – a life of peace and prosperity; living in a land of milk and honey.  
While bearing their yoke of enslavement, they prayed to God to hear and answer their cries for mercy.  They swore faithfulness to the God of their fathers, the God who promised to set them free.    For all their years in slavery, they held true to their faith in God as their hope for freedom and a new life.

God calls us all, His children, to this new life.  This new life is not our old life without the things that are bothersome or troubling.  No, this is not our old life with a do-over.  This call to new life is a radical departure from the old ways in which we live.  By our baptism we are called to put on this new life in Christ Jesus.  H calls us away from who we were to become who we really are – children of God - a new creation – “renewed in the spirit of our (your) minds and putting (put) on a (the) new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” 

John’s Gospel, tells us of how the people followed after Jesus because he fed them.  Their immediate need for nourishment were met and they worried about receiving their next meal – such is life.  They worried about this life and this world, not knowing or understanding the truth of Jesus.  Still thinking about filling their bellies, they ask Jesus what they must do to get their next meal.  

He tells them that they are to seek the food that will bring them eternal life.  Food, not sufficient for the day, but lasting food for all eternity – belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Father has sent into the world.

It is Jesus who is this food of everlasting life, the bread that comes down from heaven.  Jesus is the food the Father sends His children, in His love and faithfulness, to nourish them and fill them.  Belief in the Father through His Son, Jesus brings us to our new life.  Jesus Christ is the One who brings us new life in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity; sustaining and renewing us, so we may never be hungry: never be thirsty again – Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life Eternal.  ~ Amen.
Deacon Don