17th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

17thSunday O T Year B – 2015

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

A young man saw an elderly couple sitting down to lunchat 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 bay 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. Amen.


16th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

16th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

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. As soon as I took charge one person told me that you should take a day off…

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. Amen.

15th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

15th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

Amos 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Saint Peter was having a busy day at the pearly gate of Heaven due to the numerous new arrivals, most of whom were farmers and poor people. As he was about to admit them all, he saw a politician in the group. He motioned him to step forward, and then escorted him inside. As the guy entered a marching band came to meet him complete with ticker tape and red carpet spread out.

After the grand reception, St. Peter returned to the gate. The farmers and the poor people were grumbling, saying, “Even here in heaven, there’s discrimination!” St. Peter heard the remark and said, “My friends, there’s no discrimination. We have to give the grandest welcome to that man because he is the first politician to ever enter Heaven!”

This is only a joke, of course. It is because there are some upright and God-fearing politicians in our midst today who are faithful to their calling of doing a mission to preach as Christian Catholics. We, as God’s chosen ones, are sent by God to preach. Anyway today, who are those being sent by Jesus to preach?

It is no longer the Twelve because they were gone already and have their mission accomplished. You know, it is the mission of the Church to preach. All of us are baptized as Catholic Christians and became members of this Church. Some are ordained to preach like us, priests, and others are not, but all of us, baptized Christians, are called to preach the gospel.

And none of us is excused. Each one of us is commissioned to a ministry of love by virtue of our baptism. Let us listen to these words of Vatican II’s Decree on the Laity: “Incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, the laity are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself,” (no.3).

So what kind of life, or profession or occupation you may have now, you are sent out “to preach, teach, heal and witness to the Good news,” in short, you are sent to evangelize. “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two.”

The meaning of this two-fold action (summoning and sending) is based on the literal meaning of the word “apostle”, which is “one who is sent”. But today’s summoning and sending (in chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel account) is different from a second apostolic mission on which these men will be sent (in the final chapter, where in fact only eleven remain).

The key distinction is what the Twelve here are sent to do. This is a preparatory mission: to preach repentance, drive out demons, and anoint and cure the sick. Here the Twelve turn people around from the negative, to prepare them to receive the positive. Their mission is akin to that of St. John the Baptizer: to prepare for someone greater yet to come.

In Mark’s final chapter, the apostles are sent to accomplish something radically different. They are sent not just to the sick, but to “the whole world”. They are sent not just within the Holy Land, but “to the whole world”. They are sent not to preach repentance, but to “proclaim the Gospel” [16:15].

For each of us, in the on-going conforming of our lives to Christ, we need to listen and be receptive to the works of both of these missions: turning away from sins, in order to live the Gospel. However, since today’s Gospel passage focuses on the first mission, dwell on its meaning. It’s highlighted in today’s First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos.

Each Christian must participate in this first mission from two perspectives. Each is on the receiving end of this mission, as well as on the giving end. In other words, each Christian has repentance preached to him, and each must preach repentance to others. The latter is perhaps the more difficult. Because of his or her baptism, each Christian is called to speak out against things that are wrong, and especially those that are evil.

This is the role of the prophet. This is what we hear Amos doing in the First Reading, even though he is not sure he wants to. Yet in the First Reading we hear something else characteristic of our discipleship. Not only do we often not want to speak the truth. Often, others don’t want us to speak the truth, either. Not only was the prophet Amos not accepted. He was officially chased out of the country.

As he was being rejected, he made statements that we sometimes use for not speaking up against evil. He proclaimed that he had never received any formal training as a prophet. He didn’t know for sure how to speak to others. He didn’t know what exactly God might have to say to them. Amos’ call is like that of the fisherman from Galilee to whom Jesus is speaking in the Gospel.

But now the question is how do we preach? Our preaching has to be credible. And they say, “a good example is the best sermon.” Our concrete lives are the best mirrors by which others may see themselves. In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs His disciples that the first thing to do is to obey. We must put our personal interests and even pride over and above what God wants.

What is the meaning of Jesus’ instructions: Why did Jesus send the Apostles in pairs? Because according to Jewish law, two witnesses were needed to pronounce a truth. Going two by two carries with it the authority of official witnesses. By his instructions, it is clear that Jesus meant that his disciples should take no supplies for the road but simply trust in God for their requirements.

God, the Provider, would open the hearts of believers to take care of the needs of the disciples. Jesus’ disciples were to preach the Good News that God is not a punishing judge, but rather a loving Father who wants to save men from their bondage to sin through Jesus His Son.

The disciples were to preach the message of repentance which has disturbing implications. To “repent” means to change one’s mind and then fit one’s actions to this change. It can also mean taking a new direction. Thus, repentance means a change of heart and a change of action a change from a self-centered life to a God-centered life.

Such a change may hurt a bit at times. It is also interesting to note that Jesus commanded his disciples to anoint with oil. In the ancient world, oil was regarded as a sort of cure-all. Let us emphasize that mission work is everybody’s or every Christian’s business. However, the extent and the type of missionary work vary.

For the lay faithful and for parents in particular, they do not need to go over their own doorsteps in order to preach. Parents should remember that one of the most effective proclamations of the gospel can be carried out by educating or rearing their children in the Catholic faith, as well as upholding Christian values in their homes.

When children are properly educated in the faith, there is much to hope in the Church. If young people remain faithful to their Christian responsibilities, then, the Church will remain vibrant in the future. Each Christian is called not only to be a disciple but also to be an apostle.  As disciples, we have to follow Jesus and imitate Jesus.

As apostles, we have to evangelize the world. We are called to share with others not just words, or ideas, or doctrines but an experience, our experience of God and His Son, Jesus.  Like the apostles, like St. Francis Assisi, like Blessed Mother Teresa, we are all chosen and sent to proclaim the Gospel through our living. Amen.

14th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

14th Sunday O T Year B -2 015

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. Amen.