Assumption of the BVM

Assumption of the BVM

1Chr.15.3-4, 15-16; 16.1-2, 1Cor.15.54b-57, Luke 11.27-28

There is an old story about a workman on scaffolding high above the nave of a cathedral who looked down and saw a woman praying before a statue of Mary. As a joke, the workman whispered, “Woman, this is Jesus.” The woman ignored him.

The workman whispered again, more loudly: “Woman, this is Jesus.” Again, the woman ignored him. Finally, he said aloud, “Woman, don’t you hear me? This is Jesus.” At this point the woman looked up at the crucifix and said, “Be still now, Jesus, I’m talking to your mother.”

Why do Catholics treasure Marian devotions and doctrines that their non-Catholic brothers and sisters do not? It is because, I think, the Catholic Church is trying to tell the full story, to proclaim the full gospel.

But isn’t the gospel all about Christ and what he did and taught? Yes and no. The gospel is about Christ in the same way that the story of the Fall is about Adam. “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor.15:22).

That is why we call Christ the new Adam. But as soon as we say that, we become aware of a missing link. The story of the Fall is not only the story of Adam but the story of Adam and Eve.

If Jesus is the new Adam, who then is the new Eve? Mary is the new Eve. Just as the full story of our Fall cannot be told without Eve, so also the full story of our Redemption cannot be told without Mary.

There are many revealing parallels between the old Adam and Eve on the one hand and the new Adam and Eve, Jesus and Mary, on the other. Here are some of them.

In the old order, the woman (Eve) came from the body of the man (Adam), but in the new order the man (Jesus) comes from the body of the woman (Mary).

In the old order, the woman (Eve) first disobeyed God and led the man (Adam) to do the same, in the new order the woman (Mary) first said “Yes” to God (Luke 1:38) and raised her son Jesus to do likewise.

Adam and Eve had a good time together disobeying God, Jesus and Mary suffered together doing God’s will. The sword of sorrow pierced their hearts equally (John 19:34; Luke 2:35b).

In the old order Adam and Eve shared immediately in the resulting consequences and punishments of the Fall.

In the new order, similarly, both Jesus and Mary share immediately in the resulting consequences and blessings of the Redemption, the fullness of life with God; Jesus through the Ascension and Mary through the Assumption.

The doctrine of the Assumption teaches that at the end of her earthly existence, the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up (assumed), body and soul, into heaven.

That means, therefore, that there are two human bodies we know to be in heaven with God at this time: the human body of Jesus and that of Mary.

The Ark of the Covenant was the central symbol of the Jewish religion, not because of what it was, but because of what it contained. Within the Ark of the Covenant were the tablets of the Law and a jar of manna and the staff of Aaron the priest.

None of these items were actually God, but they represented the relationship between God and Israel. Over the centuries, the contents of the Ark were lost, but the Ark itself was still revered because of what it had once held.

The Ark of the New Covenant is Mary, the Mother of God. As the Jews revered the Ark of the Covenant without ever confusing the Ark with God himself, so we Christians revere Mary without ever confusing her with God. Within her body was Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus took his human nature, his DNA, his cells, from Mary. She nourished him for 9 months as a mother nourishes her unborn child. Even after she had given birth, she could rightly be revered for what her body once held.

But that would be the wrong reason to honor Mary! At least, that is what Jesus tells us. If we honored Mary merely because she carried Jesus in her womb, we would be missing more than half the point.

The Ark of the Covenant was made of wood. What did the trees do to deserve being made into the Ark? Nothing; they are trees. No one asked their permission, they merely looked all over for the very best wood.

Similarly, Mary was chosen because she was the very best human being, but Mary is a human being, so God would not have used her without her permission.

This is why, when a woman shouts out today from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed”, Jesus corrects her: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

He is saying that Mary is blessed to be the Mother of God, but not merely because part of her body became the body of God, nor even because of the intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary, who fed him at her breast.

Mary is blessed because she heard the word of God, through the angel Gabriel: Who, more than Mary, heard the word of God and did it? No one. She is the Mother of Jesus, but she is also his first disciple.

How fitting it is then that, as the first disciple of Jesus Christ, she was the first human person to experience the Resurrection in her own body.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Mary was raised before us as a symbol of the whole Church. Jesus, by rising from the dead, destroyed the power of death, so that we too can rise in our earthly bodies, and Mary is the first fruits of that Resurrection. Where she has gone before us, we hope to follow.

Mary found the way to heaven, and it began with obedience. If we are hoping to follow her, we must begin in the same way.

However, it will be easier for us because we have an advantage that she lacked: we have a mother in heaven whose only desire is to lead us to her first-born son: Jesus Christ, who is the only way to the Father.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

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19th Sunday O T Year B

19th Sunday O T Year B

1Kings 19:4-8; Eph.4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Once there was a stonecutter who was bored and unhappy with his job. One morning, as he was cutting stones, he saw the king pass by. He prayed to God: “Lord, please make me that king because I am tired of being a stone cutter. It seems good to be king.” The Lord made him a king instantly.

While he was a king he was walking along a road one day, he found the sun much too hot that he was perspiring heavily. He said to God: “It seems the sun is more powerful than the king. I would like to be the Sun.” instantly, the Lord made him the Sun.

As he was shining brightly one morning, he found that the clouds were blocking his sunshine, then he thought to himself: “It seems as though the clouds are better than the sun because they can obstruct my sunshine.” So he said: “I want to be the clouds.” He became the clouds. Later on, he became the rain that poured down on the earth causing a flood. He said: “I’m now very powerful.”

Then he noticed a big rock that blocked his flow. He said to himself: “It seems the stone is more powerful than I am. I want to be this stone.” Then he became the stone. One morning, a stonecutter started to cut him to smaller pieces. He said: “it seems the stonecutter is more powerful than I am. I want to be stonecutter.” Then he instantly became what he originally was.

We are the people who love to complain. We are a people who love to murmur. We all do our fair share of complaining, and sometimes with good reason. We complain about the weather a great deal. We complain about all kinds of things. If we are not careful we can find ourselves complaining about nothing in particular, just complaining.

We can easily get ourselves into a very negative frame of mind. We see the problems but we see nothing else. We fail to see the bigger picture which will nearly always have brighter shades in it. Our vision can be restricted to what is wrong or missing or lacking.

The gospel starts by saying that as soon as the Lord said to the Jews: “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews murmured to one another. They started to say: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”

As far as they were concerned, he was a problem, and they could not see beyond the problem. They had always known him as the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth; they knew his family and his mother. Yet, here he was claiming to be the bread that came down from heaven.

They were scandalized that one of their own could make such claims for himself. Their response to Jesus was to complain about him. Complaining on its own is rarely an adequate response to anything or anyone; it is certainly not an adequate response to the person of Jesus.

Yes, Jesus had a difficult time trying to teach the people that He is the bread of life because their minds were already filled with complains.

When the mind is filled with complaints, the heart is already closed. And when the mind is filled with complaints, then life can be a pain.

Joke for the day: After his return from church one Sunday a small boy said, “You know what, Mommy? I’m going to be a preacher when I grow up.” “That’s fine,” said his mother, “but what made you decide to be a preacher?” “Well,” said the boy thoughtfully.

“Since I have to go to Church every Sunday anyway, I think it would be more fun to stand up and yell than to sit still and listen.”

In the 1st reading, we hear of the prophet Elijah, who seemed to be complaining and even wishing he were dead. His words of complaint were these: Lord, I have had enough. Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors. Yet his complaint was not about the small stuff. His complaint was about a real mortal danger.

He was being pursued by his enemies, and they were hunting him down and bent on taking his life. So even as a prophet, he felt he can’t take it anymore, and hence those words – Lord, I have had enough. Take my life! Well, those are indeed prophetic words coming from a prophet in distress.

Because we too have our own complaints about life. Especially when all the work is arrowed and pushed to us, and no one would help us, whether it is at home or at work. Or when our problems keep mounting and no one understands us. All they ever say is: Don’t worry, be happy!

Or when one is old and sickly, and no one bothers or cares, and loneliness has drained the meaning out of life. In such situations, we will be tempted to say: Lord, I have had enough. (Take my life) But God being God, He won’t take our life just like that. Rather He will give us the bread of life.

For the prophet Elijah, God sent an angel to bring him bread and water to help him go on. The bread has a deeper meaning than just food to fill the stomach and to satisfy the hunger. It was a sign for the prophet Elijah that God will be with him in the journey ahead.

So for his complaint, God did not give a solution; rather God became his companion. Yet in our all complaints, whether it is about life or about God, let us realize that we are not asking for answers. For the questions about life, pain, and suffering and even about God, the answers won’t be of much help, even if we can get those answers.

Yet for all our questions and complaints, God comes to be with us and to be our companion on the way. And that is actually what we really need – a companion to be with us in our difficult and painful moments of life.

With that, we will understand what Jesus meant when He said: the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world. The language of the gospel is very graphic. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread that comes down from heaven and calls on us to eat this bread.

When we hear that kind of language we probably think instinctively of the Eucharist. Yet, it might be better not to jump to the Eucharist too quickly. The Lord invites us to come to him and to feed on his presence, and in particular to feed on his word.

In the Jewish Scriptures bread is often a symbol of the word of God. We may be familiar with the quotation from the Jewish Scriptures, ‘we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

We need physical bread, but we also need the spiritual bread of God’s word. We come to Jesus to be nourished by his word. The Father draws us to his Son to be fed by his word. The food of his word will sustain us on our journey through life, just as, in the first reading, the baked scones sustained Elijah, until he reached his destination, the mountain of God.

When we keep coming to Jesus and feeding on his word, that word will shape our lives. It empowers us to live the kind of life that Saint Paul puts before us in the second reading, a life of love essentially, a life in which we love one another as Christ has loved us, forgive one another as readily as God forgives us. That, in essence, is our baptismal calling.

Indeed, the best service we can render to someone is to be a companion, to be a spiritual companion to be with that person even if it’s just being there quietly, especially when that person is in difficulty. Because no one would ever complain against a companion, especially a companion who shares in the bread of pain and suffering.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

18th Sunday O T Year B

18th Sunday O T Year B

Ex.16: 2-4, 12-15, Eph.4: 17, 20-24, Jn.6:24-35

A few years before a miraculous event happened in a small village parish in the state of T.N in India.

During the Mass when the priest said the words ‘This is my Body…’ and raised the sacred host people saw the face of Jesus in the host. And it was there for real afterwards also.

People thronged to see the miraculous host with the face of Jesus on it. For a few days there was a flow of people to see that and later the host was taken to the Bishop’s house.

Hearing about it and reading about this news on the net I called my older brother who is in T.N. I asked him whether he went and saw that.

His answer surprised me. (It should not have happened since as a priest I should have believed like him) He told me, “Why should I go there? Every day during the mass I see Jesus in the bread and I receive Him in communion. I don’t want any more proofs to believe that.”

In today’s Gospel passage we see Jesus offering himself as bread of life, “Take me as your bread and you will never be hungry again.”

They must have been unable to understand what he meant and I wonder whether we really understand that after two thousand years.

We live as hungry people in a hungry world. Everyone is looking for something that will sustain and nourish life, something that will feed and energize, and something that will fill and satisfy.

Everyone is looking for bread. The problem is not that we are hungry, but the kind of bread we eat.

That’s what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel. Jesus saw that the people were hungry and he fed 5000 of them with five loaves and two fish. It’s the next day and the picnic is over so to speak.

Today they show up and their first question is, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

They do not marvel at yesterday’s miracle, give thanks for God’s generosity, or even wonder who this rabbi is.

It was as if they are worried they might have missed the next meal, that Jesus started without them and they are too late. They saw no sign, no miracle, in yesterday’s feeding.

They either refused or were unable to see beyond the fish and bread. They are interested only in their own appetites and Jesus knows it.

“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” he says to them.

The people are concerned for their bellies. Jesus is concerned for their lives. The people want to feed themselves with bread. Jesus wants to feed them with God.

“Do not work for the food that perishes,” he tells them, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Jesus certainly did not neglect the physical suffering and physical hunger of the people as he shared with them the meaning of God’s love. Yet the crowds were having a hard time understanding all of this.

Jesus points out that the physical food perishes; the kind of food he is talking about lasts forever.

The crowd gets interested but still does not understand how they can work for the everlasting bread. The answer Jesus gives is so simple, “This is the work of God that you believe in the one that he has sent.”

They are still not satisfied; again they want him to prove it, “Give us a sign.”

St. Paul would urge the Ephesians in the 2nd reading, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that is corrupted by illusory desires.

To see the sign that Jesus is giving is to undergo a spiritual revolution so that they can put on the new self that is created in God’s way, i.e. the goodness and holiness of truth.

And so it is with us. Just what are we working for and what are the directions and the goals of our life?

Are we happier now that we were before? Are we happy with our job, with our marriage, with our family?

Are we happier now that we are older? Or do we think that we were happier when we were younger?

Are we like the Israelites in the 1st reading who think that they would be happier to be under slavery in Egypt than to have freedom in the desert?

But that is certainly an illusory desire which thinks that happiness and contentment is found everywhere else but not in the here and now.

No point going even to the moon and the stars to search for happiness, because as long as we are not happy on earth, even if we go to heaven, we might think it is hell.

The purpose of receiving Jesus the bread of life, is to open our eyes to life, and to see where are the areas of our lives that we can grow in happiness and love.

God made all things good, and He made man the best, because man is made in the image and likeness of God.

And God uses His beautiful creation to remind us of the beauty of our lives, and how to be happy.

The following are some images of creation, symbols of happiness, so that we can see for ourselves, what we need to be, in order to be happy.

Be like the sun. Arise early, and do not go to bed late.

Be like the moon. Shine in the darkness, but submit to the greater light.

Be like the stars that decorate the dark sky and make it beautiful.

Be like the birds. Eat, sing, drink, and fly free.

Be like the flowers. Loving the sun, but faithful to the roots.

Be like the faithful dog, but faithful only to the Lord.

Be like the fruit. Beautiful on the outside, and healthy on the inside.

Be like the day, which arrives and leaves without boasting.

Be like the well, giving water to the thirsty.

Be like the firefly, although small, it casts its own light.

Be like the water, good and transparent

Be like the river, always moving towards a greater goal.

Be like the flag, so that we can be proud of our nation.

And above all things, be like the heavens: A home for God.

If any of these images caught our attention, then act on it.

Let that image be our inspiration and motivation in our journey towards happiness.

May Jesus, the bread of life, fill the hunger of our hearts and the thirst of our souls, so that we become signs that point to God.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

17th Sunday O T Year B

17th Sunday O T Year B

2Kings 4:42-44/ Eph.4:1-6/ Jn.6:1-15

A young man saw an elderly couple sitting down to lunch at McDonald’s. He noticed that they had ordered one meal, and an extra drink cup.

As he watched, the gentleman carefully divided the hamburger in half, counted out the fries, one for him, one for her, until each had half of them. Then he poured half of the soft drink into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife.

The old man then began to eat, and his wife sat watching, with her hands folded in her lap. The young man decided to ask if they would allow him to purchase another meal for them so that they didn’t have to split theirs.

The old gentleman said, “Oh No. We’ve been married 50 years, and everything has always been and will always be shared, 50/50.”

The last part of it is the interesting one. Then the young man asked the wife if she was not going to eat, and she replied, “It’s his turn with the teeth.”

For whatever occasion it might be, there must be this one essential and important element, and that is none other than food. Yes, for whatever occasion it might be, the presence of food will make things look good.

For example, at weddings, besides the bride and the groom looking very good, there will also be the wedding reception where there will be at least some catered food, or better still a 10-course sumptuous dinner.

For birthday celebrations, there will at least be a sweet rich birthday cake. Even for funeral wakes, there will be at least some simple food. But the presence of food is not just to make the occasion look good.

Food is for our good. Because food is the first necessity of life. We eat to live (and not the other way round). In fact, the first human activity in the Bible is eating!

In the book of Genesis, after God created man, He told him that he may eat of all the fruit trees in the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

So even God is concerned about our need for food, and what we are eating. So the basic question in life, and for life, is this – What do we really need? And do we have it?

That was the question that Jesus asked when He saw the crowds – “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?” The need was for food – bread for the people to eat.

And from the small boy’s five barley loaves and two fish, a miracle happened and the crowd of five thousand ate as much as they wanted.

Yes, it was a miracle, a sign and a wonder, all pointing to divine providence. Yes, God cares for His people. He is concerned about their need for food and He provides.

Yes, food is good, because it points to the Lord who is good. And hence eating must also be an act of thanksgiving. That’s why we say Grace before meals, to give thanks to God for the food.

Yes, give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for He provides us with food. Yet, we see something strange happening in the gospel.

The people seeing this sign, this wonderful miracle that Jesus had given, were having ideas of taking Him by force and making Him king. And so Jesus had to make a quick exit to the hills by Himself.

It was strange, because instead of giving thanks to God, the people’s need turned into greed. Jesus had healed the sick; now He had provided bread for the hungry.

For the crowds, they could only see in Jesus the one who could give them food and health, and hence their problems in life are going to be solved.

So they wanted to make Him their king, so that He will have to provide for them always. For the crowd, they thought that they had found the man who would take care of all their physical wants and needs.

They thought that they had found the one who would make everything right again – there will be no more hunger, no more sickness, no more problems, no more worries.

Yes, it began with a need, but it turned into greed. The crowd was not able to see that the miracle of the multiplication of loaves was a sign of the goodness of the Lord’s providence.

When a need turns into greed, thanksgiving will be forgotten, and there will only be selfish desires and agendas.

As we come to Mass, we have come to the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving”. So we have come here to thank God. But are we aware of what to thank God for?

Oh yes, the first thing that comes to mind is that we thank God for giving Jesus to us in Holy Communion.

But the consecrated host is a small piece of wafer that hardly satisfies us if we are really physically hungry. Yet, as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we also open our eyes in thanksgiving.

And certainly, one of the things we must thank God for is the food that is so easily available in our country, and that we can eat as much as we want.

Do we see any miracle there? Yes it is a miracle in that for a country like United States which hardly produces what it consumes, we have so much of fresh food.

And the food that we consume has certainly gone through the labors of many hands and many people before it appears as delicious warm food for our enjoyment.

So right before our eyes, a miracle has happened! And when we see it as a miracle, we would certainly give thanks to God for that.

Yet at the same time, we can also simply take it for granted, that there will always be food on demand, and that we can even waste food. If that is the case, then our need has become a greed.

We will cease to see miracles and cease to give thanks. And then like the crowd, we would begin to put our selfish desires and agendas on demand, and expect Jesus to fulfill it.

The other day I read an article about a man who worked at a highway tollgate. He was a very cheerful person, and he loved to spread his cheer to others.

And so, whenever someone passed through the gate, he always smiled and greeted them. He also had a very good memory.

One day, remembering that a certain driver who always wore glasses had none, he asked him: “Where is your glasses”? To another, a truck driver with a load of big logs, he said, “Wow that looks really heavy!”

After a few weeks, an interesting thing happened. The cars at this man’s tollgate formed a longer line than at all the other tollgates. People liked this man very much, and they wanted to see his smile and be greeted by him.

When we think about it, the man working at the tollgate did not do anything spectacular. He simply smiled at all those who passed through the gate and greeted them in a friendly way.

But that simple gesture and those few words of encouragement were very important. It made a deep impression on people and gave them a boost.

We see something very similar in today’s gospel story. First, it is significant, I think, that all of four gospel writers tell us about this event.

It is also important that, although the account of each one differs a little, they all mention two basic facts: there were five loaves of bread and two fish. And with that small amount of food, Jesus was able to feed at least five thousand people.

This means that Jesus performed a very great miracle with very little resources. Although there were only a few loaves of bread and two fish, He fed a very large crowd of people until they were satisfied.

Each one of us is very powerful. We can change the lives of a whole community simply by a cheerful attitude.

If we add faith to our cheerfulness, there is no limit to what we can do. At first, the disciples lacked faith. They felt that there was not enough food for so many people. But then Jesus taught them that if they had faith, they could do anything.

This, I believe, is what Jesus wants to tell us in today’s gospel. When we have faith, we become extremely powerful. Why? Because when we act with faith, we are allowing God Himself to work in and through us.

Jesus wants to do great things though us. Let us open ourselves to His grace so that he can accomplish whatever he wishes through us.

Let us also remember to always say the “Grace before meals”. And with thankful and grateful hearts, we will be able to see the wonders and miracles that the Lord works for us always.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

16th Sunday O T Year B – 18

16th Sunday, O T, Year B

Jer.23:1-6/ Eph.2:13-18/ Mk.6:30-34

I am sure we know what the initials “RIP” stand for. We see these initials on tombstones and on niches – and of course we know it stands for “Rest in Peace”. (Not Rise if Possible!)

It seems that only for those who have passed, those who have died, only they are entitled to “rest in peace”.

But for the living (and that means us!), we can go around wearing T-shirts with the big letters RIP – and they would stand for “Rest if Possible”.

Well, in a modern society like America, we are plagued with nothing less than busyness. In fact, we can be so busy that RIP can also mean “ripped into pieces”.

Maybe that is why we like to go overseas or out of states for holidays. We want to get away from it all, to have some rest and some peace. (As if it is possible!)

Even when we are in the restroom, we still cannot rest in peace. Because someone will come along and knock on the door and say things like: You are still in there? Can you hurry up?

And we can also forget about Sunday being a day of rest. Sundays can be so filled with busyness, that we need to recuperate from Monday to Saturday.

But whatever day it might be, we are always busy, we are always “on the go”. But where are we going?

We heard in the gospel that Jesus had sent his disciples “on the go”, to go on the mission of preaching repentance and deliverance and healing.

They had been busy, and no doubt they liked it because they saw how the authority of Jesus worked in them – people repented, evil spirits were cast out, the sick were cured.

And also, there was so much more to do that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. But they were high, and they wanted to go on for more.

And that’s when Jesus jammed the brakes and told them to come away to a lonely place and rest.

Yet, the irony was that it was Jesus Himself who ended up “on the go” – He set Himself to teach the crowds. In other words, Jesus ended up being busy.

And the so-called “rest” that He wanted for His disciples was certainly short-lived, if ever there was any at all. So, what is it that Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel today?

Is it that, there will be no rest and peace all the days of our lives, until we are over and done with life? Come to think of it, rest and peace is so elusive, isn’t it?

For example, parents will never rest from their responsibilities and they will always worry about their grown-up children. Married couples would long for some peace between each other.

Those who are sick would long for a good night’s rest without pain. Those who have done something wrong would long for peace and reconciliation.

So, we may be longing for a good rest, but we better not say we are dying to rest. (Because we might just end up in eternal rest!)

But just like that short amount of respite that Jesus and His disciples had in the boat before they reached the other side, God will also give us just enough of rest so that our hearts will have just enough of peace.

Because our God who gives us rest is also restless. Because He cares for those who are like sheep without a shepherd.

As we heard in the gospel, when Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He set Himself to teach them at some length.

In doing so, Jesus taught His disciples a profound lesson.

The happiest people in the world are not those who have no problems, but those who learn to live with things that are less than perfect, and to have compassion on others.

There is a story of group of graduates, highly established in their careers, who got together to visit their old university professor.

Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the simple and cheap ones.

While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee.

In most cases, it is just the quality of the cup and in some cases even hides what we drink.

What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. Then you began eyeing each other’s cups.”

The point of the story is that Life is like the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups.

They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we live.

Sometimes, by concentrating on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.

Compassion is like good coffee. We are like the earthenware cups that contain the good coffee of God’s compassion.

Those who are tired and wearied by the troubles of life would long for the aroma and thirst for a drink of the coffee of God’s compassion.

No matter what kind of cup we think we are, we can always offer others a drink of God’s compassion.

God’s compassion will offer rest to the weary and peace to the troubled.

May we be the cups that will contain God’s compassion and may we ourselves find rest and peace in God.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing.Amen.

16th Sunday O T Year B

16th Sunday O T Year B

Jer.23:1-6, Eph.2:13-18, Mk.6:30-34

A pastor is called to attend to his dying parishioner, a notorious criminal who couldn’t care less about the things of God or his spiritual life.

The pastor arrives and is surprised to see the dying man frantically turning the pages of a big Bible. Supposing he could be of help, he asked, “What are you searching for?” And the dying man coldly replies, “Loopholes.”

Today’s gospel is a good one for those who read the Bible looking for loopholes. It gives us two apparently contradictory images of Jesus.

First we have the image of Jesus as a man of firm, uncompromising, and even insensitive personality who turns his back on a needy and helpless crowd of people who need his help and takes off on a break once it was time for a break.

Then we have the image of Jesus as a caring, empathetic and compassionate Jesus who calls off his well-deserved rest to attend to a noisy crowd of clients when they should not.

The average reader of the Bible faced with this dilemma is likely to see in Jesus the character that best suits his or her own personality.

Today’s readings explain how God, like a good shepherd, redeems His people and provides for them.

They also challenge us to use our God-given authority in the family, in the Church and in society, with fidelity and responsibility.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah, thunders against Israel’s careless leaders – the king, some priests and some court prophets because they have shown no concern for the poor.

The prophet also foretells the rise of a good, new shepherd in the family line of David. Today’s Good Shepherd Psalm (Ps.23) affirms David’s faith and trust in God, the “Good Shepherd.”

The second reading introduces Jesus as the shepherd of both the Jews and the Gentiles and explains how Jesus, the good shepherd, reconciled all of us with His Father by offering himself on the cross.

Paul also speaks about another reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles, brought about by Jesus who has accepted both into the same Christian brotherhood.

Today’s Gospel passage presents the sympathetic and merciful heart of Jesus who lovingly invites his apostles to a desolate place for some rest.

Jesus had sent his apostles on their first mission, which was one of healing, teaching and preaching. When they returned, they were no doubt excited by the experience. They had witnessed at first hand, the power of God’s Word.

Nonetheless, they were hungry, exhausted, and in need of rest, both physical and spiritual. In fact, Jesus was eager to hear about their missionary adventures as they proudly shared their experiences.

But Jesus, too, was in need of a break from the crowds who were constantly pressing on him, demanding his attention and healing. Hence, he led the Apostles by boat to a “deserted place” on the other side of the Lake for a period of rest and sharing.

Now what does it mean: “Sheep without shepherd.” When Jesus and the apostles came ashore there was a large crowd waiting for them.

Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for those people who were “sheep without a shepherd.” Here the reference to the shepherd was probably to religious leaders, because at this time the Jews were an occupied people and the real political power was in the hands of the Romans.

This brief description, “sheep without a shepherd,” is also dense with Biblical allusions. Like the people of Israel, the crowds were in the desert where they would receive not only miraculous food (next Sunday’s Gospel), but guidance and instruction, just as the Torah had been given in the desert of Sinai.

“Sheep without shepherd” will perish because: First, they cannot find their way and will probably end up eaten by a wolf or other carnivores.

Second, they cannot find pasture and food and the third, they have no defense against the dangers which threaten them. Jesus’ first acts with this shepherd-less sheep was to teach them. [v.34]

And then to feed them [vv.35-40] and finally to protect his closest disciples who were also His sheep from the storm [vv. 45-52].

This text affirms Jesus’ extraordinary availability and his compassion for the needy. It teaches us that a Christian should be ready to sacrifice his time and even his rest in the service of the Gospel.

A story from the life of Mother Teresa shows her love for lonely and unwanted people, the “sheep without a shepherd,” who, while materially well-off, are sometimes “the poorest of the poor.”

On one occasion, she visited a well-run nursing home where good food, medical care and other facilities were offered to the elderly.

As she moved among the old people, she noticed that none of them smiled unless she touched them and smiled at them first. She also noticed that many of them kept glancing expectantly towards the door while listening to her.

When she asked one of the nurses why this was so, she was told: “They are looking for a visit from someone related to them.

But, except for an occasional visit, birthday gift or a get-well card, this never happens.” Jesus invites us, in today’s Gospel, to show concern, mercy and compassion for such sheep without a shepherd.

We, Christians must be people of prayer and action. The Christian life is a continuous passage from the presence of God to the presence of people and back again.

Prayer is essentially listening to God and talking to Him. One of our main problems is that we do not truly allow God the opportunity to speak to us. We also do not know how to “be still and to listen.”

Hence, we are often in danger of refusing to allow God to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength. In addition, we do not set aside enough time for Him to speak to us and for us to speak to God.

How can we shoulder life’s burdens if we have no contact with the Lord of Life? How can we do God’s work unless we rely on God’s strength?

And how can we receive that strength unless we pray to him individually, in the family and as a parish community in the Church and receive His grace by participating in the Holy Mass and through the reception of the Sacraments?

However, we must never seek God’s fellowship in order to avoid the fellowship of men but always in order to prepare for it.

From our reflection on today’s Gospel, let us remind ourselves that the Christian life consists of meeting with God in the secret place so that we may serve people more effectively in the market place.

The Church has the double responsibility of teaching and feeding. People today find it difficult to balance those two aspects of the Christian life.

Some apparently believe that the social ministry of the Church is all that is needed to make Christ present in the world. Others seem to believe that the Church’s major concern should be preaching the Gospel, rather than feeding the hungry and healing the sick.

The Church’s duty, so the argument goes, is to spread the Gospel and provide for public worship. Both views are one-sided. There can be no true Christianity without the proclamation of the Gospel.

Teaching the Word of God is essential to a Christian community. But that is only half of the story. So let us be good Christian in the secret place and in the market place.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

14th Sunday, O T Year B

14th Sunday, O T Year B

Eze.2:2-5/ 2Cor.12: 7-10/ Mk.6:1-6

There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of a Church. The first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on Dedicating oneself to service and the Choir Director chose to sing: “I Shall Not Be Moved”. Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him.

The next Sunday he preached on Giving. Afterwards, the choir sang as the director led them in the hymn: “Jesus Paid It All” By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two began public. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon on the Sin of Gossiping.

Would you believe the Choir Director selected: “I Love To Tell the Story”? There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed he was considering resignation.

The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: “Why Not Tonight?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist singing: “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”

Today’s readings introduce Jesus as a prophet and explain how prophets and other messengers from God inevitably suffer rejection. The readings challenge us to face rejection and hardship with prophetic courage.

The first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, tells us about his call from God to be a prophet. Yahweh warns Ezekiel that he is being sent to obstinate and rebellious Israelites in exile in Babylon. Hence, as God’s prophet, he will have to face rejection and persecution for giving God’s message.

The reading gives us the warning that as Christians who accept the call of Jesus and seek to follow him, we also may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.

In the second reading, St. Paul gives us the same warning from his experience that not only the prophets, but the apostles and missionaries also will have to encounter hardships and rejection in their preaching mission.

Paul confesses that God has given him a share in Christ’s suffering – a chronic illness which gave him pain, a “thorn in the flesh,” so that he might rely on God’s grace and might glory in the power of a strengthening God.

The apostle invites us to rise above our own weakness and disability, cooperate with the grace of God and preach the word of God by word and example as Paul did.

Today’s Gospel passage shows us that many people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth did not accept him as a prophet because they knew him and his family too well. They knew that he was a carpenter with no schooling in Mosaic Law.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus went back to His hometown of Nazareth. He already had a reputation: that He taught with authority and He worked miracles. With such a reputation, we would expect the people of His hometown to cheer and clap for Him. Yet they questioned His wisdom and His miracles.

So what is the problem? Or where is the problem? Or who is the problem? Well, Jesus pointed out the problem. Yes, He made a name for Himself. But that name is not winner, not hero, or champion. That name is prophet! And Jesus pointed out a prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations, and in his own house.

Yes, Jesus went back to His hometown as a prophet but He did not bring any profits for the people. Anyway, prophets and profits do not mix! So, when the people saw that there was nothing to gain from Jesus, that there was nothing they would benefit from Him, they just rejected Him.

If Jesus had multiplied their food, their crops, their livestock, their wealth, and then perhaps they would have welcomed Him. But in their minds, carpenters are not supposed to preach. And certainly, Jesus had preached about things that they didn’t want to hear.

Things like faithfulness to God, forgiving enemies, praying for those who wrong them, helping the poor and needy, honesty and humility.

Even we ourselves would not be very excited about hearing those kinds of things. Yet, these are divine truths, and divine truths are also the truths of life. Jesus preached to His people those divine truths but He was like a thorn in the flesh for them.

And those truths He taught only increased the pain for them. So, the most convenient thing to do was to label Him a carpenter and reject Him. Case closed.

Jesus would have certainly felt the pain of their rejection, so much so that He could work no miracle there. To say that He was amazed by their lack of faith may be an understatement.

The rejection was painful and it was like a thorn in the flesh for Him. We also heard in the 2nd reading of St Paul complaining about his “thorn in the flesh”.

What was it? we are not told, but like Jesus, St Paul also faced rejection in his ministry. He even pleaded with the Lord, three times, to remove this “thorn in the flesh”, but he was told:

“My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness”. And with that, St Paul continued to face the insults, hardships, persecutions and agonies for the sake of Christ.

Year ago, there was an article on the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. It was about his beatification. He is recognized for his heroic Christian virtues. In fact, he was the forerunner of TV evangelization back in the 1950s and his talks are very inspiring and his books are still widely read.

Yet, there is something we must know about Fulton Sheen. When he was in college, he was told by his college debate coach: You are the worst speaker I ever heard. That must have been a deep thorn in his flesh and caused him much pain.

How he managed to overcome that pain and rejection, nobody knows but he certainly believed in those words: “My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness”.

In life, we will be hurt with many painful thorns of rejection and criticism. Some may think that we are of no use or of no benefit to them.

And then there are the thorns of failure, defeat, humiliation, and also the thorns of pride and sin. But as St Paul had taught us and this indeed is a divine truth: those thorns in the flesh are to stop us from getting too proud.

Yet at the same time, Jesus tells us: My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness. Yes, it is when we are weak that we are strong.

Let us deepen our faith in Jesus, our healer and Savior. Even with the thorns in our flesh, we can still be His prophets, powerfully proclaiming the wonders that God works in us.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.