22nd Sunday O T Year – A – 14

22nd Sunday O T Year – A – 14

Jer.20:7-9; Rom.12:1-2; Matt.16:21-27

A dying father called his three sons in order to give each one of them their inheritance. To the First son he said: “My son, I will give you our house as your inheritance.” So the first son was so happy because he will inherit from his father the beautiful and palatial house.

The father said to the second son: “My son, I will give you our land as your inheritance from me.” So the second son was so happy because he will inherit the vast tract of land that they have which was productive and fertile.

The father said to the last son: “My son, because I love you so much and you are my favorite. I find pleasure in you and so I will give you my cross as your inheritance.” The younger son was so sad because he neither received nor inherited the house and the land.

He was angry with his father. In the evening, he threw the cross and it hit the wall of their house and so the cross was broken. To his surprise, inside the cross were diamonds, gold and other precious stones in the world. He said to himself: “My father is right, he really loves me.”

In our relation with the Heavenly Father as His children, He loves us so much that He gives us crosses not because He wants us to suffer but because He wants us to have better lives. I remember St. Teresa of Avila complaining to the Lord why she always had the cross, trials and difficulties in her lives. Jesus answered her: “That is the way how I treat my friends.”

The readings for this Sunday remind us that Christian discipleship demands self-control (“Deny yourself”), the willingness to suffer (“take up your cross”), generosity (“to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God”), and readiness to follow Jesus by obeying his commandment of love.

In the first reading we see Jeremiah and he is certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ. The prophet Jeremiah lived about 650 years before Christ.  Jeremiah was sent by God, “to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow” (Jer.1:10). But Jeremiah was regarded as a traitor by his own people because, as God’s mouthpiece, he had to foretell the dire results that would follow from their plan of revolt against the mighty power of Babylon. So he became depressed and complained bitterly to God. In today’s passage Jeremiah accuses Yahweh of tricking him.

In the second reading, Paul advises the Roman Christians that they must live their Christian lives in such a way that they differ both from the Jews and from the pagans. St. Paul calls them and us to adopt an attitude of sacrifice in our worship of God.  In order to do this, we must explicitly reject the behavior of the world around us. Paul tells them, and us “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” to God.

Once a husband came home from church and suddenly lifted his wife and carried her around the house. The startled wife said, “Why did you do that? Did the priest tell you to be romantic?” The husband replied: “No! He told me to carry my cross!” (It could be the other way around, but the husband is heavier).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes his disciples by surprise. After Peter’s great confession of faith, he announces that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter could not bear the idea of a suffering Messiah. It was then that Jesus rebuked him so sternly, “Get behind me, Satan,”

When we reflect on the words, “Get behind me, Satan,” Origen the great writer suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: “Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It’s your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go.”  Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled to be Christ’s follower.

After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship or we can say the challenge of Christian life. There are three things we must be prepared to do in order to live the Christian life: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

First, we must deny ourselves. Jesus Christ demands self-denial, that is, self-negations a necessary condition of discipleship. In a strict sense, this is called self-denial which means self-emptying. The required denial is of carnal self, the egocentric, self-deifying urge with which we were born and which dominates us so ruinously in our natural state. It is because usually we treat ourselves as if we were the most important persons.

It should be the other way around: We should forget about ourselves and acknowledge the Lord in all our acts even if this means persecution and death so that Christ may acknowledge us in heaven. Self-denial means giving up something like we have to give up our vices like drinking, smoking, womanizing, gambling and others. It means we have to set aside our own self and put God at the center of our lives.

But this is only a very small part of what Jesus meant by self-denial. To deny oneself means that in every moment of our lives we have to say no to ourselves and yes to God or to dethrone ourselves and to enthrone God.

Second, we must carry our cross. What kind of a cross we must carry? Is it a bad luck or a blessing? Billy Graham in his “The Offense of the Cross,” said that when Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,” it was the same as saying, “Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.”

He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind. Jesus had in mind a place of execution. The cross is a plus sign. The redemption pictured by the cross has put a big plus sign in our lives. The cross is a positive sign in our lives. We, priests when we give a blessing or when we bless things for spiritual use, we make the sign of the cross.

We carry our cross if every day we are faithful to Him. Are we faithful with our prayer as well as in attending Masses? Are we faithful in reading the Bible by which we know Christ more fully? If not, then let us think and reflect all over again.

The father was approached by his small son who told him proudly, “I know what the Bible means!” His father smiled and replied, “What do you mean, you ‘know’ what the Bible means? The son replied, “I do know!” “Okay,” said his father. “What does the Bible mean?” “That’s easy, Daddy…” the young boy replied excitedly.” It stands for ‘Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.’

Third, we must follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus means that, as Disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus’ commandment of love. Someone said:  “Only those who obey can believe and only those who believe can obey.” That is to say, we must render to Jesus Christ a perfect obedience.

To follow someone who has asked us to “take up our cross” daily seems foolish. But in the words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “to be a fool for Christ is the greatest compliment the world can give. You and I are in good company, because most of the saints embraced the Cross of Christ and were considered fools for doing so.”

We need to ask these questions as we examine our conscience today. Does my Church offer a Faith strong enough to command a sacrifice on my part? Do I have enough Faith to offer up a genuine sacrifice for Christ’s sake? Can a Church in today’s self-centered culture ask its people to sacrifice something for the sake of the Gospel? Jesus’ challenge to all would-be disciples requires more than a “feel-good” spirituality. A true disciple asks, “Am I willing to sacrifice something for the kingdom?” Amen.

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21st Sunday O T Year – A – 14

21st Sunday O T Year – A – 14

Is.22:19-23; Rom.11:33-36; Matt.16:13-20

Every day, Tim would go to the nursing home and visit with her. Each time she would ask Tim who he was and why he was visiting her. And each time Tim would explain who he was and why he was visiting. He would tell the story of all his children and grandchildren, all the activities and all the news of his family. And while he was feeding her lunch each day, he would gently remind her that he was married for 52 years to the same woman and that woman was her.

Then each time, she would smile brightly as if told for the first time. That woman was Margaret, and Margaret suffers from Alzheimer’s disease; she moves in and out of reality. Tim tends to her each and every day and before he leaves, he hugs her gently, kisses her and tells her that he loves her dearly, knowing well, that tomorrow, he will have to repeat the whole routine over and over again.

His friends plead with Tim as to why he continues to put himself through this. They tell him, “She does not even know who you are any more.” And he would always respond the same way, “But I know who I am.” The reality in our own lives is that we are known by our actions. How we treat one another is how we first know who we are for ourselves and that is how others come to know us.

We don’t often think of it, but the gospels are loaded with questions. Sometimes it seems like there are more questions than there are answers. Questions imply a quest, a search, and a hunger for knowledge. Genuine questions that is, not trick questions. The word “question” contains within it the word “quest.” That’s what Jesus liked… people who are in search for truth, who are questing for God.

And that is what Jesus asks today, “Who do people say that I am?” He knew who he had been with these people; He had been healing them; He had been forgiving them; He had been preaching to them. But he wanted to know if they knew who He was, not because He didn’t know who he was but He wanted to know if the people could recognize in his actions that he was truly the Son of God.

And we find Simon Peter answering the question by identifying Jesus as the Son of God. Evidently Peter recognized something deep within Jesus that was divine, someone coming from God. But Peter came to that as a consequence of Jesus asking him a question. Jesus in response sees something deep within Peter that Peter couldn’t see for himself.

In a sense Jesus introduced Peter to himself. “Okay,” Jesus said, “you told me who I am. Now let me tell you who you are. You are Rock!” This quality was not, I am quite sure, something that Simon Peter recognized within himself. No doubt it was a big surprise, not only to Peter himself but also to all who knew him. Probably no one would have thought that about him.

All of this was typical of Jesus. Jesus judged differently, He went beyond appearances. We judge people by appearances… Jesus judges with penetrating insight. He went deep inside people and saw the best that was in them. Then He tried to get them to become aware of those wonderful qualities deep within themselves.

St. Augustine once said: “Dig deep enough in any person and you will find something divine.” That’s a perfect description of how Jesus works with us. Put Jesus one-on-one with any person and He will dig until He finds something God-like, something divine, within us. Then He will do everything He can to draw it out of us and into the open. We should do the same.

The story is told about St John Paul II. He visited a large prison facility in Rome. While conversing with some of them, one of the prisoners sheepishly approached him and mumbled, “Holy Father, will I still be forgiven?”

He must have committed a lot of crimes. The Holy Father embraced him lovingly, and that said it all. The gesture was like the father forgiving his wayward son in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. “Don’t ever despair,” He said to him. God orders us to throw our sins in the depths of the ocean and puts a sign, “No Fishing!”

Yes, as human beings, we are people with limitations, human limitations and human weaknesses. But we are also people with incredible potential, an unbelievable potential to care for and love others. And then the next layer, if you would, is that we are Christians; that is who we claim to be. As Christians we claim not to play to our weakness but to play to our strength. And that is:

To be the best we can be, the kindest we can be, to be the most loving, the most forgiving, and the most willing to serve others. That is who we claim to be with our words but do our actions lay claim to that same creed; that we are Christians in what we say and in what we do? We have to reflect on that.

That’s what Peter eventually came to. But he couldn’t do it all by himself – he needed Jesus to draw it out, changing his name so that he could change his picture of himself. Remember that is what is involved when God gives us a name in our baptism, a name and an identity that comes from God our Father. God is always forgiving, always trusting, always faithful, always loving.

We’ve grown cynical and bitter, unloving, cold, and indifferent, if not actually mistrusting of others. Jesus counters by asking us to be like God – to forgive without limit, to trust others no matter how many times they disappoint us, to keep on loving no matter what, to keep on believing in the basic goodness within others no matter how they may appear to us on the surface.

We, with Jesus, should always hate the sins of others but love other sinners just as much as God loves them. We need to regard them as He regards you and me. These are not easy things to do, but that is our claim. So, know that in Tim loving his wife Margaret, he continues to love her not because she knows who he is but because he knows who he is; he is her husband of 52 years.

Finally, Jesus calls us to live together as a family, a family that He calls His Church, a family of faith. He called it “my church”, and He declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hell vanishes in the face of love; the devils flee in the face of trusting, forgiving, believing, and hoping love.

Jesus knows that we can’t be our best all alone, all by ourselves. The best within us is always brought out in loving relationships with others. No amount of evil can ever overcome any amount of love.

Jesus said to Simon: “You are rock.” Jesus is saying something similar to you and to me today in this Mass, in His Word that you have just heard in sacred scripture. It was written for you. Listen to what Jesus is saying to you, and then face each day of this coming week in the midst of our very troubled world, trying to remember just who it is Jesus says you are and who He meant you to be. Please note that the tornado cannot destroy the stars.

 

20th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

20th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

Is.56:1. 6-7, Rom.11:13-15.29-32, Matt.15: 21-28

There is an Aesop fable which tells the story of a rabbit and a hunting dog. One day when the dag was out hunting he flushed a rabbit from a thicket and gave chase. The frightened rabbit ran its little heart out and eventually escaped. As the dog headed home, it passed a farmer who taunted him with, “You are a fine hunter. Aren’t you ashamed to let a rabbit one-tenth of your size outrun you and get away?”

The dog answered, “Ah, but sir, I was only running for my supper, the rabbit was running for his life!” Yes, this rabbit was running faster than the fastest man in the world! In today’s gospel we hear a dialogue between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. This woman’s single-mindedness for her daughter’s healing is rewarded. This should remind us of the following words. “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it is the size of the fight in the dog.” Run for life you will win the race.

The woman in the story teaches us a few truths about our faith and prayer. The first thing she teaches us is persistence. Her persistence is recognized by Jesus. This is an important lesson when all of us struggle. Are we persistent? We get serious about losing weight, and then give up when it doesn’t come off fast enough. Our doctor recommends exercise, and we do so for a few days after visiting the doctor and then go back to life as usual.

Just as difficult is persistence in prayer, in good works, or with any spiritual discipline. The woman in the gospel reminds us that sometimes the sheer persistence can be the prayer, the good work and the spiritual discipline. This is a unique story. We cannot think of any other story where Jesus seems so harsh with someone seeking his help. It’s also the only one we can think of where someone got the better of Jesus in a debate.

The only part of the story that most of us remember is Jesus saying to her, “it is not right to take the food of the children (the Jews) and throw it to the dogs (meaning Gentiles).” Referring to someone as a dog in those days, as well as today, would be an insult. A dog would be an unclean animal for the Jews, just as Gentiles were considered unclean by the Jews.

The important thing that we need to notice here is that the woman didn’t turn and walk away in a huff. She was humble enough and clever enough and persistent enough to accept Jesus’ remark and turn it to her advantage in order to gain his help to heal her daughter. We also need to notice in the gospel today that the healing is not the primary focus of the story. It is the conversation between Jesus and the woman.

The Gospels describe only two miraculous healings Jesus performed for Gentiles:  the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman and the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt. 8:5-10). The encounter with the Canaanite woman took place outside Jewish territory.  These miracles were performed in Tyre and Sidon, two coastal cities, twenty-five and fifty miles north of Galilee in present-day Lebanon. The story of our miracle is told by Mark (7:24-30) as well as by Matthew (15:21-23). The miracles foreshadow the extension of the Gospel, the Good News, to the whole world.

By granting the persistent request of the pagan woman, Jesus demonstrates that his mission is to break down the barriers and to remove the walls of division and prejudice between the Jews and the Gentiles. God does not discriminate but welcomes all who believe in Him, who ask for His mercy and who try to do His will.

Jesus first ignores both the persistent cry of the woman and the impatience of his disciples to send the woman away. He then tries to awaken true faith in the heart of this woman by an indirect refusal, telling her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman is persistent in her request. She kneels before him and begs, “Lord, help me.” Now Jesus makes a seemingly harsh statement, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

The term “dogs” was a derogatory Jewish word for the Gentiles. Dogs were regarded by the Jews as unclean, because they would eat anything given to them, including pork. The woman noticed, however, that Jesus had used the word kunariois–the word for household pets – rather than the   ordinary Greek word for dogs – kuon.   She also observed that Jesus had used the word for dogs in a joking way – a sort of test of the woman’s Faith.

So she immediately matched wits with Jesus. Her argument runs like this: Pets are not outsiders but insiders. They not only belong to the family, but are part of the family. While they do not have a seat at the table, they enjoy intimacy at the family’s feet. Hence the woman replied: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v.27), expressing her faith that Jesus could and would heal her daughter.

Jesus was completely won over by the depth of her Faith, her confidence and her wit and hence responded exuberantly, “Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”

In that we find a lesson for ourselves. How many times have we prayed earnestly for something, something very dear to us, and God seems to have ignored us or rebuffed us. We turn on our heels and walk away, angry, promising we will quit praying or going to church or thinking God just doesn’t care about me.

The second thing we can learn from this woman is the need for a clear focus. The civil rights movement calls it: “keep your eyes on the prize.” When Jesus spoke to her in language that demeaned her people, she did not lose her cool but kept her eyes on the goal of her mission, which is to show that even non-Jews are entitled to God’s blessings in Christ.

The third thing we learn from this woman is courage. Being a foreigner and as a woman, it took phenomenal courage on her part to decide to approach the all-Jewish and all-male company of Jesus and his disciples. She was out there for a “one-woman demonstration” giving us a message not to be afraid to challenge prejudice and falsity even in religious high places.

Although the essential parts of prayer are adoration and thanksgiving, the prayer of petition plays a big part in most people’s daily life. We cannot provide, by our unaided selves, for our spiritual and temporal needs. Christ himself has told us to ask him for these needs: “Ask and you shall receive.”

Asking with fervor and perseverance proves that we have the “great faith” we need to receive all that Christ wants to grant us in response to our requests. We must realize and remember that we do not always get exactly what we ask for, but rather what God knows we need, what He wants for us and what is really best for us. What we need most are the peace and security that come from being in harmony with God’s will for us.

Let us always try to pray the prayer that the woman prayed, “Lord, help me”. Amen.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Vigil Mass – 14

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Vigil Mass – 14

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

There is a joke that says the difference between a mirror and a woman. The difference is: the mirror reflects without talking while the woman talks without reflecting. We always make fun of women as lovers of talks, although there are some men who talk more than women.

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. This one is a dogma of our Catholic faith. As a Catholic, we must believe in faith that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul even if we cannot understand it.

What does the Catholic Church actually teach? The Church simply teaches that the end of the earthly life of this woman, she was assumed immediately into heaven, body and soul and united with God.

Assumption was declared or proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950. He said: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we proclaim, declare and define that it is divinely revealed dogma that Mary the Immaculate Mother of God ever virgin when the course of her earthly life ended, was raised body and soul to the glory of heaven.” Her body was never allowed to be decayed and to be corrupted.”

Now we come to the readings of today, 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: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God; behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus”, and she responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” 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.

St Francis De Sales asks the simple question in his sermon for the Assumption: “What son would not bring his mother back to life and would not bring her into paradise after her death if he could?” Who could argue with a statement like that?

The Assumption tells us that God is not only concerned about our souls but also about our bodies. They are the temples of the Spirit. They are part of who we are, and so the feast of the Assumption is a feast that celebrates who we shall be.

Assumption is a reminder for us that, we too, shall rise from the dead on the last day.

 

19th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

19th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Rom.9:1-5; Matt.14:22-23

A man named Smith climbed upon the roof of his riverside house during a flood, confident that his God would save him miraculously. When the flood waters had covered his feet a neighbor in his canoe paddled past and shouted, “Can I give you a lift to a higher ground?” “No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.” Soon the water had risen to Smith’s waist.

At this point a motor boat pulled up and someone invited him to get into the boat and escape. But Mr. Smith adamantly refused the offer declaring his faith in the saving power of his God. Later when Smith was standing on the roof with water up to his neck somebody from a helicopter dropped a rope and the pilot yelled at him, “Grab the rope before the water currents push you down.” “No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.”

But after a while Mr. Smith lost his grip on the roof, fought for his life for a time and finally drowned. As he arrived at the Pearly Gates he met his God and launched a complaint about this turn of events. “Tell me, Lord,” he said, “I had such faith in you to save me and you let me down. Why? It was not fair.” The Lord replied, “What did you expect me to do? I sent two boats and a helicopter to save you.”

The readings for this week speak of God’s saving presence for His people and the need for trusting Faith in a loving and providing God Who always keeps us company. The first reading tells us how the fascinating story of the prophet Elijah begins today. But it is interesting to find him hiding in a cave on the mountain Horeb. What was he doing in the cave? How did he end up in a cave?

The answer is he was a runaway criminal. He had just crossed words with the reigning ruler, Queen Jezebel. He had mocked her pagan prophets, ridiculed them publicly and proven their gods were frauds. Queen Jezebel did not take kindly to this humiliation so she declared Elijah an outlaw and send her soldiers to fetch him for execution. And so here he is, a fugitive from justice, hiding in a cave for fear of his life, and rapidly losing faith in God.

As the prophet Elijah sat in the mouth of the cave feeling depressed and abandoned, he expected to see God in a storm that passed by, an earthquake that shook everything, and a fire that burned everything before him. But God was not there in any of them at all. Then he heard it, a kind of tiny whispering sound in his own heart. And he knew God was there. When all the noise is gone there is only God. Ralph Emerson says, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of God.

In a culture, so loud and noisy, we think we will find God in special effects and grandiose events: wind, earthquake, fire, Jurassic Park and Woodstock. But we will not find God there. God is in the quite. God is in the time we spend apart in silent prayer, on a retreat, on a pilgrimage, the time of reading a spiritual book. When we quite ourselves, we will find God, closer to us than our own breathing.

In the second reading, Paul laments and mourns over the Jews who, having lost their faith in Yahweh and His prophets, had rejected their promised Messiah, Jesus. The Gospel episode occurred during an unexpected storm on the Sea of Galilee in the early morning hours. A proper understanding of the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the sea has a lot to teach us about who Jesus is. Jesus comes to us in our trials and temptations. He comes very calmly and quietly.

As Jesus approached the apostles, miraculously walking on water, he allayed their fears by telling them, “It is I.” The Gospel also explains how Peter lost his trusting faith in Jesus for a few seconds and consequently failed during his attempt to walk on water.

A doctor phoned his patient one afternoon and told him: “I have some bad news and some worse news. The bad news is that all your tests show, you have 24 hours to live.” The patient said, “What could be worse than that?” The doctor answered, “I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.”

Fear, of course, is a healthy thing when it motivates us to protect ourselves from some threat to the wellbeing of ourselves or of those we love. Fear stimulates us emotionally to prepare for fight or flight. But a lot of us are consumed by fears that are groundless, irrational, or certain things we can do nothing about except to pray.

In last week’s gospel, we heard about Jesus miraculously feeding over 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Matthew immediately follows that gospel with today’s gospel. The miraculous feeding took place on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and he went off to the hills alone to pray.

Matthew leaves us to wonder why Jesus acted this way. But St John fills in some of the details. John tells us that after the crowd had seen what Jesus did in healing the sick and feeding all of them, they decided they were going to make him their king. As king, he would be their liberator and savior. He would raise an army and drive the Romans out of Israel and Judea.

He would rule them, may be even fulfill every need they had. Jesus knew that’s not what the Father sent him to do. As savior he had much greater things to offer them than freedom from the powers of Rome and free meals. So Jesus sent the apostles away because he knew they would be particularly excited over the prospect of Jesus taking over as king.

Some of them already imagined themselves having important places in Jesus’ kingdom. So he sent them off, away from the crowd, dismissed the crowd himself and went off alone to pray.

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew recorded his Gospel after Peter was crucified, when the Christians were being persecuted. The storm story addresses issues of danger, fear and Faith. The boat seems to represent the Church, buffeted by temptations, trials and persecutions.  Jesus appears as the Church’s champion, strong to save those who call on him in faith.

The recounting of this episode probably brought great comfort to the early Christians, especially those of Matthew’s faith community. For it offered them the assurance that Christ would save them even if they had to die for their faith in him, and that, even in the midst of persecution, they need not fear because Jesus was present with them.

The episode offers the same reassurance to us in times of illness, death, persecution, or other troubles. It teaches us that adversity is not a sign of God’s displeasure, or prosperity a sign of His pleasure, that illness is not a sign of inadequate Faith, or health a sign of great Faith. Paradoxically, the storms of life can be a means of blessing.

When things are going badly, our hearts are more receptive to Jesus. A broken heart is often a door through which Christ can find entry. He still comes to us in the midst of our troubles, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Amen.

18th Sunday O T Year – A

18th Sunday O T Year – A

Is.55:1-3; Rom.8:35, 37-39; Matt.14:13-21

According to an Indian fable, the Lord Vishnu said once to his devotee: “I am weary of your never-ending petitions. I shall grant you three requests. Make sure you chose them carefully because having granted them, I shall grant you nothing more.” The elated devotee did not hesitate to request: “Here is my first request,” He said, “I want my wife to die so I can marry a better woman.” His wish was immediately granted.

But when friends and relatives gathered for the funeral and began to recall the virtues of his wife, the devotee saw he had been hasty. So he asked the Lord Vishnu to bring her back to life. That left him with just one more petition. He consulted wildly. Some advised him to ask for immortality. But what good was immortality, said others, if he did not have a good health?

And health if he had no money? And money if he had no friends? The devotee was so confused that finally asked the Lord Vishnu himself: “Tell me what to ask for.” The Lord Vishnu laughed and said: “Ask to be content, no matter what you get.” Of course we can never be contended by bread alone nor by beer, nor by television, nor by cars, nor by balanced budget but by every word that comes from God.

Our reading today from Isaiah tells us three reasons why it is better to get what we need from the providence of God than to try to grasp after it ourselves. First of all, it is free. Second, it is better. Third, it is complete. God tells us that he will give us for free. “Come, without paying and without cost,” he says.

This is a good deal. God also tells us that he will not just cover our basic needs. He is not only serving bread but “wine and milk” and “rich fare”. This is a very good deal. Usually, when you get something free, you get what you pay for, but God says that he can give us, for free, something better than we can buy with money.

God also cautions us that when we try to buy our happiness, it “fails to satisfy”. This is because we do not even know what we really want, but God does know. He can fulfill desires that we never even knew we had. What great promises! We would be fools not to take God up on this offer.

Except…. In the psalm today, we repeated, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” This is great news, but is it true? We are told, “He answers all our needs”, but does he? Where is it? Where is this great, free, perfect satisfaction that we have been promised? This seems to be another case where the reality fails to live up to the advertisement.

Of course, it is about 95% true. Consider all those things that if you were suddenly lacking you would desperately want: life, oxygen, health, use of your body, water, food, safety. It is easy to miss the many ways that God does provide for our lives every day, in each moment of every day. We really do not notice the providence of God. We only notice the other 5%. Parents know what I am talking about. Your children do not notice that you do their laundry, feed them, and give them a place to live. If you stopped doing their laundry, if you stopped providing food, if you stopped paying the electric bill, they would suddenly become very aware of what you were not doing for them.

But what of this other 5%? The psalm promised that God would provide all of our needs. What is left over, what God is not providing, is also for our benefit. We would be ungrateful spoiled brats if we never knew what it was to need something. Isaiah, in the midst of the advertisement, repeats over and over again: “Come.” God has come almost all the way to us, but the other 5% is our room to come to God. So what should we do?

The first thing we need to do is to seek the Lord in quiet times of prayer. We should take seriously God’s invitation to be fed by him. He will never withdraw His invitation. He offers himself to us, especially here in Holy Communion, but nothing will happen unless and until we respond. Just how have we actually and truly responded to His invitation to us?

To do this we have to turn off our cell phones, our I-pods, and all of our electronic gadgets that fill us up with nothing but noise. Are we afraid of silence? Are we afraid that we will have nothing to say to God in our moments of prayer? Are we afraid that God will have nothing to say to us? Just why don’t we pray? Are we simply too busy or, on a deeper level, do we fear the silence of prayer? Perhaps our prayers are filled with too much self-accusation, and so, in our shame, we avoid being close to God. But God offers Himself to us in the midst of our failures and sins.

Apart from prayer, what about some moments of thoughtful self-reflection? Summertime provides us with opportunities to see mountains, or rivers, or lakes, and to contemplate the beauties of nature. But, wonderful as all that may be, it’s all outside of ourselves. If we are to nourish our hearts and souls, we need to take a look at what’s inside ourselves instead of focusing on all that’s outside and around us.

If we don’t have times of self-reflection we will really hunger and thirst. We live in lives of plenty of distractions only to discover that they do not satisfy our real hunger. Summer gives us chances to share ourselves with others and to let others share themselves with us. Are we willing to admit that we have needs, hungers, and thirsts?

Are we willing to admit that we are dependent on others to nourish our hearts and souls? It’s wonderful and it’s good to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, but too much of that will leave us with nothing, and then we will truly hunger and thirst.

Finally, we need to ask ourselves: “What really sustains us? What is our true sustenance? Just what sort of food is feeding us? Junk food? Food that doesn’t nourish us? Are our bodies bloated and fat while our souls are lean and hungry? Why should we go on living in spiritual starvation?

And today, do not leave this Mass thinking you have nothing to give others. Do not think you have nothing to give them in order that they might overcome their hunger and thirst. Jesus is here to give you the Bread of Life, not so that you can keep it all to yourselves but so that you can feed countless numbers of those around you who are looking for the same thing you are:

A life of meaning and purpose, a life lived in the closeness of God. After all, He is the one who will do the feeding. All we have to do is, share His food – His tender loving mercies, His presence, and His love. If you don’t, those in the world around you will continue to starve. Amen.