Tuesday, August 14, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 12, 2018

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 12, 2018

Food


The well-known humorist Andy Rooney once said that the two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books.

The cookbooks tell you how to prepare food. The diet books tell you how to avoid eating it.

A California scientist has calculated that the average person eats 16 times his or her own weight in a year.  A horse eats only 8 times its weight.  

The scientist concludes that if you want to lose weight, just eat like a horse.  Orson Welles once said, “My doctor has advised me to give up those intimate little dinners for four, unless, of course, there are three other people eating with me.”  

Underneath all of this humor, there is a real truth. We all enjoy food, we need it, and it is central to our lives.

Jesus as Food – In 2 Ways 


In today’s gospel, Jesus talks of himself as food – as the bread of life.  If we look closely at the passage, we hear that Jesus responds to our two basic needs for food. 

1. Food for Growing

We need food first of all for growing.

An infant who weights 7 ½ pounds at birth or a sixth grader who is four feet eight inches tall – both of them need food to grow. Of course, sometimes we older adults continue to grow because of food, but in another way!

Today, Jesus says:“Whoever believes has eternal life.”  “Whoever believes has life.”

Here Jesus is speaking of himself as the wisdom and word and revelation of God.  He is food for us in this way.

So, he helps us to grow in our understanding of God.  He helps us to grow in seeing God as He really is.

Jesus helps us to grow in how we are to relate to one another. Saint Paul lists some of these ways today – relating with kindness and compassion, and not with bitterness and malice. 

And Jesus with his teaching and with the teaching of the Church down through the centuries helps us to grow in figuring out what to do in life’s complex situations, like end-of-life issues.  So, Jesus as food helps us to grow: “Whoever believes will live.”  

2.  Food for Living

And then, we all know that we need food just for living.

For me, when it gets to late afternoon or early evening, I’m really hungry.  I’m low on energy and really need something to eat to keep on going.

Well, today, Jesus says: “I am the living bread and whoever eats this bread will live forever.” “Whoever eats will live.”

Here Jesus is speaking of himself as sustenance and energy for living. He is food for us in this way too.

So, maybe we are burned out with our job, and this food keeps us going.  Maybe we feel worn out by the long-term care of a loved one whom we want to care for, and this bread gives us the energy we need.

Maybe you are grieving the loss of your husband or wife, and the Eucharist gives you the sense of closeness – closeness with God.  Maybe we are sick and filled with anxiety about where this is leading, and this food gives us comfort and strength.  

Maybe we are dealing with hurts from the past and an injured, very low self-esteem, and the bread of life gives us God’s unconditional love and acceptance.  So, Jesus, as food, helps us to live: “Whoever eats will live.”  

Conclusion

I really like looking at Jesus and today’s gospel in this way.

Jesus is food for us.  And we need spiritual food for the same reasons we need physical food – for growing and for living.

“Whoever believes will live.”  “Whoever eats will live.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 5, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 5, 2018           
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         4:00pm and 8:00am

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore  11:00am


A Couple Realizes… 


Ten years ago, in 2008, one of the biggest financial frauds in history took place.

A New York stockbroker named Bernie Madoff swindled 20,000 investors out of more than $64 billion – imagine that, $64 billion! Investors found their portfolios, their retirement savings and the college funds for their children all wiped out.

Madoff is now serving a 150-year prison term in North Carolina. Many of Madoff’s investors, besides losing their money, also lost their homes and in some cases, they lost their marriages and their families. 

But some of them have shown great strength and have gained a new perspective on life. And this is why I am recalling all of this today.

A New York Times article told the story of one couple. They had been enjoying a luxurious retirement but then, they lost 80% of their assets in the Madoff scheme.

They had to sell homes in New Jersey, Florida, and Vermont. They now live in a small house in a Vermont community.

This couple says that they feel lucky. They realize that what they lost has not affected their health and the love between them and with their children.  

He says,“When your life gets altered overnight, you realize that you don’t have to belong to a country club or drive an expensive car. You certainly don’t have to own three separate dwelling places.”

Several years ago, they went to their old country club for a wedding reception. This made them realize that it is not just their circumstances that have changed.

They themselves have changed. She says, “That’s not who we are anymore.”

“…What Endures for Eternal Life” 


This husband and wife may not realize it, but they help to illustrate what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel.

Some of the people who had experienced Jesus feeding the 5,000 – last Sunday’s gospel – some of these people are pursuing Jesus. But Jesus, in effect, says that they are only interested in him to see what else he could give them. 

Jesus is not discounting the importance of food and of eating. What he is getting at is our being absorbed in things that are not of lasting value.

So, Jesus says: “Do not work for food that perishes.”Instead, “Work for food that endures for eternal life.”

Jesus wants us to focus our energy on things of long-term importance and deeper value. And then he identifies the two “things” he has in mind. 

The Two “Things” That Endure

First, Jesus stresses the importance of relationships. 

He says: “I am the bread of life.”His point is that the “thing” that really gives life is a person or persons and not money or comforts or possessions.  

So, we need to put our energy into the persons in our lives – your husband or wife or friend, your son or daughter or parent. These relationships will have far greater value than any amount of money or material things. 

We need to give priority to these relationships. What they do for us and for the others as persons will, as Jesus says, “endure for eternal life.”

And then, Jesus gets very specific about therelationship that is most important and most valuable. 

He says: Iam the bread of life; whoever comes to mewill never hunger.”In other words, the relationship with him is paramount. 

Why? Because it will positively affect all of our other relationships and our entire life.

So, we need to make our relationship with Jesus central to our lives. We do this through personal prayer, through reading the Scripture, and through the Eucharist. 

Jesus, his way of living and his way of relating will be both a glue and an enrichment for all of other relationships. It will “endure for eternal life.”

Conclusion

So, as we receive the Eucharist, let’s allow this Sacrament of the “bread of life” to enliven our relationship with Jesus.

And then let’s allow this relationship to move us to make a priority of the other important relationships in our lives. This, as Jesus says, will be “the food that endures for eternal life.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thursday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - July 26, 2018

 Thursday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne

July 26, 2018       9:00am

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

Today we honor Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There is no mention of them in any Scripture text.
We get their names from a non-Biblical book.
But because they are the parents of Mary, even though we know nothing else about them, we honor them as saints and celebrate them today.

Maybe in honoring them, we honor parents in general.
And we especially honor parents who, like Joachim and Anne, are ordinary, everyday, faithful, dutiful persons and not well-known:
parents who have sleepless nights, tending a sick child;
parents who get the children off to school, commute to work, stop at the supermarket to pick up a few things, get the kids to their soccer game or dance class, fix dinner, get the kids to bed, and then fall into bed themselves, exhausted;
parents who, by their own example, instill good habits and values in their children.
I am thinking that these are the parents we honor and pray for in celebrating Mary’s parents today.

One other thought.
It seems to me that Mary must have learned and developed her own wonderful traits from her parents:
her faithfulness and trust in God, her humility, and her self-sacrificing spirit.
We see these traits in Mary and they, I believe, tell us something of what her parents, Joachim and Anne, must have been like.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - July 22, 2018

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
July 22, 2018

St. Mary Parish, Pylesville 9:30 and 11:15am


Why Follow?


This morning, I want to ask a “why?” question. 

Today’s gospel says that there were so many people that Jesus and his apostles did not even have time to get a bite to eat – not even a burger at McDonalds! So, my question is: Why?

Why did so many people gather around Jesus? In a way, the answer is rather simple: these people believe in, hope in, and love Jesus.

To Believe, Hope and Love 


First, these folks probably have nothing and no one in their life experience to believe in. They are ordinary, hard-working people.

They have been made to feel like second-class, maybe even low-class by the higher-ups. They have been let down often by the leaders in their society.  

And so, they are open to believe in God intervening in the world in the way that Jesus is talking about. They are willing to believe in Jesus who seems so wise and compassionate.

These people also have nothing to hope for.  Fifteen percent of their children die at birth, 60% before they are teens, and their life expectancy is 35 years.

They work hard on farms that they don’t own and they live under the occupation of the Roman army.  They see no real future for themselves.

And so, they are attracted by the hope that Jesus is offering them – that the meek will inherit the land and that their sorrows will be turned into joy.  They are willing to hope in Jesus.

And then, these people also need love.  They are not treated with respect.

They do not feel valued.  They have little self-esteem.

And so, they are attracted to a man who tells them that every hair on their head is valued by God and that God loves them no matter what. They are moved to love Jesus in return. 

Today’s Challenge with That

Now, I wonder if today, in some ways, it has become more challenging to follow Jesus. 

Today, all of our knowledge may make faith more difficult. Every month we are discovering something new in the universe and in medicine and in technology. 

We may become skeptical about anything that cannot be proved scientifically.  And so, we may be less inclined to believe in God and in Jesus.

Today, we also may have less need to hope.  We may get immersed in the latest smartphone or flat screen TV or whatever. 

We may live just for today and have no real vision of the future. And so, we may be less inclined to hope in God and in Jesus.

And, today we may even be foggy about love. We may be too quick to give up on the commitment that is involved in loving.

We may also interpret love as just giving things and not ourselves and our time to our children and to others.  And so, we may be less inclined to love God and Jesus.

Our Choice to Believe, Hope, and Love

In the face of all of this, we might ask: is it still possible and even attractive to believe in, to hope in, and to love God? I think so and here’s why.

When we become aware that science does not give us all the answers and that the big questions of life and death remain a mystery, we feel different about things.  We are much more inclined to believe in God and in Jesus.

When we are aware of the problems in our lives and in our world and realize that we are not fully in control, we again feel different about things. We are much more inclined to hope in God and in Jesus.

And when we are aware of our deep, inner longing for unconditional love, again we feel different about things. We are much more inclined to love God and Jesus, the One who is unconditional love.

So yes, it is possible and even attractive to believe in, to hope in, and to love God.  This is the invitation and reminder that I see in today’s gospel.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - July 15, 2018

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
July 15, 2018

 

My Vocation


Today’s readings got me thinking about my first thoughts of becoming a priest.

I was about eleven years-old. When I look back, I almost can’t believe that the idea of becoming a priest came to me so early.

I very much admired some of the priests in my home parish. And I thought I wanted to be like them and do what they did.

It was that simple at first. Then, there were lots of twists and turns in the road, doubts about it, and a lot of maturing in my motivation.

In the end, I was ordained a priest at age twenty-five and here I am today – forty-six years later. I am still enjoying being a priest.

Our Vocation

Well, that’s a snapshot of my vocation.

And that’s the word we use to name this – a vocation, a calling, and a mission from God to do something. This morning, I recommend that all of us look at our lives in this way.

As I said before, the readings really speak of this today. The key words are “took,” “chose,”and “sent.”

The prophet Amos says that God “took me”from what I was doing and told me to do something else. Saint Paul says that God “chose us”to live holy, God-centered lives.

And Jesus “sends”the apostles to do his work. These are vocation, calling, and mission words.

I think we all have this from God. And I think it is very helpful for us to look at our lives in this way.

It’s something like wearing sunglasses and looking at everything through these lenses. I see two responses we are to make to God – two dimensions to our vocation.

First Response: Self

The first response is the giving of ourselves.

We do this by using the gifts God has given us. So, most obviously, we go to school and learn whatever we can.

Maybe we are good at math, and so we work at this and take advance placement and develop our math skills as best we can. Or maybe it is music, language, chemistry, biology, sports, whatever.

We develop the abilities God has given us. We may not think of it this way when we are doing this, but this is responding to God and to vocation.

As part of this first response to God, we also have to deal with our rough edges. All of us come out of our growing up with some stuff we have to deal with.

Maybe there is some unresolved anger and we have to get to the root of it.  Or maybe there is conflict with our parents and we need to do our part to resolve it.

Dealing with our stuff and moving forward is important. The more we deal with this successfully, the clearer and fuller will be our response to God’s calling.     

Second Response: Others

And then the second response we make to God is the giving of ourselves to others.

In other words, we grow as persons and develop our talents. And now, in some way, we use all that we are for others.

A clear example of this is husband and wife. They give of themselves to each other in marriage.

And then, God willing, they together give of who they are to children. This is a wonderful vocation and many of you have done this.

I recently saw a different kind of example of this giving of ourselves to others. A young woman in high school has been taking dance lessons.

She told me about assisting at her parish’s Vacation Bible Camp several weeks ago. She was leading almost two hundred children in song and dance. 

I could just see the life in her face as she talked about this and how much it pleased her to see the children respond. What a great example this is of responding to vocation and using for others what God has given us. 

Conclusion

So, vocation, calling, and mission from God!

I recommend that we all see our lives in this way. It is a wonderful lens through which to appreciate and live our lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - July 8, 2018

14thSunday in Ordinary Time 
Cycle B – July 8, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         4:00pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am

Weakness and Strength 

“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

These are the last words in today’s passage from Saint Paul. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Just think about this. The idea here is counter-intuitive.

At least privately, when we feel weak in some way, we don’t see ourselves as strong. This would be contradictory.

This idea is also counter-cultural. We pride ourselves on being strong.

We often see any weakness as a deficiency. We want to project at least an appearance of strength.

Paul’s Weakness

So, what does Paul mean here?

“When I am weak, then I am strong.”To understand this, we have to look back to something that he says earlier in the passage.

Paul says: “[A] thorn in the flesh was given to me.”He repeatedly asked God to remove this “thorn in the flesh,” but it was not removed.

Paul never tells us what this was. Some speculate that the “thorn in the flesh” was a physical ailment or disability.

Or maybe it was an emotional problem or maybe a moral fault. We just don’t know what it was.

Our Weakness 

We do know, if we think about it, we do know that we all have some “thorn in the flesh.”

We all have some weakness that we wish God would remove from us. Maybe it is physical pain – like migraine headaches or arthritis in our joints.

Or maybe it is an emotional problem – like depression. Or maybe it is a moral fault – like getting angry and flying off the handle all the time. 

My bet is that we all have some weakness. We all have some “thorn in the flesh,” to use Paul’s expression.     

Weakness and Power 

Now God gives Paul an insight into this “thorn,”this weakness, and this is the key to the entire passage.

God says: “Power is made perfect in weakness.”“Power is made perfect in weakness.”

This is a great and, I mean great insight. The idea here is that each of us has a certain amount of “power”.

By“power”I mean that each of us has a certain amount of self-sufficiency and a certain amount of influence over others. The insight that God gives Paul is that our “thorn in the flesh,”our weakness, whatever it is, can lead us to use our power much better.

So, if my “thorn”or weakness is some physical issue, this can lead me to be more empathetic to a family member who is having significant back pain. If my ”thorn”or weakness is an emotional issue, it can lead me to be more understanding of a child who has ADD.

Or if my “thorn”or weakness is a moral issue, it can lead me to be less judgmental of others. These are examples of what God means in those profound words: “Power is made perfect in weakness.”

In other words, my “thorn” or weakness can have a good side to it. It can lead us to grow and be better persons.

Weakness and Divine Power

Finally, God also says: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

God is speaking here of the divine power that helps us to deal with our “thorn”or weakness. This is a great irony of our human condition.

When we feel the most broken, divine power is potentially at its greatest. Why? Because when we know our weakness, we can be most open to the presence and power of God. 

This happens because we realize that we cannot do it by ourselves. The divine power helps us to deal with our weakness.

So, when we are aware of that “thorn”or weakness, whatever it is, we can turn to the divine power of God, of Jesus Christ. Then we can experience in dealing with it.

Conclusion

So, God says: “Power is made perfect in weakness.” And:“My grace is sufficient for you.” 

And that is why Paul asserts: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - July 1, 2018

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
July 1, 2018                  4:00pm and8:00am 

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

 

A Smorgasbord


I imagine that some of you, maybe many of you have been to one of those Amish smorgasbord restaurants up in Lancaster.

I have been to two or three of them. There are lots and lots of delicious dishes – soups, salads, meats, fish, homemade rolls, cakes, pies, ice cream, and on it goes.

It’s hard to come away without feeling full. And that’s an understatement!

Well, I see today’s gospel as a kind of spiritual smorgasbord. There are about a dozen things here that could feed and satisfy us spiritually.

I have decided to pick out just two items. In one way, they are separate and distinct.

But in another way, they are united by Jesus and our faith in him. So, let’s get started.

1.   Touch 

First, recall that the man named Jairus asks Jesus to come to his home and place his hands upon his daughter so that she may get well.

When Jesus eventually gets to the house, the daughter has died. But, Jesus touches her – takes her by the hand and restores her to life.

Along the way, before getting to Jairus’ home, we hear of a woman who has been suffering for years from a hemorrhage. She reaches out and touches Jesus’ cloak and feels healing in her body.

What’s going on here in both situations is the Jewish belief that physical touch can communicate God’s life and healing. Well, we have the same belief.

That’s why there is some kind of touch in each of our seven sacraments. Right here in the Eucharist, the touch is the giving and receiving of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.

So, I recommend that we approach the Eucharist in the way that Jairus and the woman in the gospel approach Jesus. Let’s come to Communion with a conscious faith that the grace and power of God come to us here.

I recommend that we adopt a very short, personal prayer that we pray and repeat as we come to Communion. For example, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,”or “Jesus, you are the bread of life.”

Just pray and repeat something like this several times in the silence of our minds and hearts. If we approach Communion in this way, we open ourselves to the grace and power of God, much like Jairus and the woman in today’s gospel.

2. Hope

Then, I want us to notice what I have always thought was a coincidence. 

The passage says that this woman had suffered with a hemorrhage for twelve years. And the daughter of Jairus was twelve years old.

I have always thought that the number twelve here was a coincidence. But, I got a new insight from my reading this past week.

The number twelve in that culture stood for completeness. So, in these two instances of serious and long illness, what is being conveyed is complete hopelessness, complete hopelessness.

But, and this is crucial, Saint Mark carefully recalls this detail and what it means for a reason. He wants to convey to us that no matter how hopeless something or someone seems to be, there is always hope and we can always turn to Jesus for help. 

It might be a serious disease, a depression, or big financial troubles. It might be the death of a loved one, relationship problems, or an addiction. 

Whatever it is, the point is that we can do exactly what this father Jairus and the woman in today’s gospel did. We can still turn to Jesus. 

We can turn to Jesus for help just to deal with the darkness or for help to get us through the dark tunnel and back into the light. In other words, there is always room for hope with Jesus.   

Conclusion

So, I have limited us to two items on this spiritual smorgasbord: 1) Touch, and 2) Hope. 


And I hope you come away spiritually nourished and satisfied this morning.