Deacon Tim Conley
Shakespeare said: “He who is new to authority is necessarily severe!”
Have you ever noticed the change that comes over a coworker, when they’re newly promoted to a position of authority, having had no previous management experience? They need to make their authority felt!
In the Gospel story, two of the disciples, who had never managed anything but a fishing boat, are asking Jesus to promote them to the highest positions of authority, other than being a king. Jesus was clear that he would not grant it but if he had, would that really have been in the best interest of the two disciples or those they would rule over? In another Gospel, Jesus promised the disciples they would one day, sit at 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. But this was something they would not be prepared for until after the new kingdom had come
To sit at the right hand of the king, would mean that people would approach you with the same dignity and honor as the king himself. To sit at the king’s left hand, although a great honor, was a position of lessor authority. All of this was well understood by the people of Jesus’ day. Notice that the two disciple’s request did not include any positions of honor or reward for the other disciples. It seemed they had already forgotten their friends.
Jesus explains that service and humility come before honor. Am I focused on how the world’s t treating me and how unfair it all is or am I too busy helping to have time to complain?
Look and listen carefully at the people around you at the people in this church and you will discover many who have needs and are suffering. Do I notice them? Am I available to them? Am I moved by their pains and their joys? Before I go to Africa, I must answer the call to my mission at home and at church.
Jesus is not asking us to die for anyone’s sins. He is asking us to serve the ones he died for. Before we lead the Mass today, let us pray: “Lord, I am your servant, how can I serve you and others in a greater way?”
Deacon Phil Moore
In the opening words of our Gospel today, we see James and John, demanding Jesus to do whatever they ask of him. At first glance, this may appear to be very presumptuous for them to demand something from Jesus. But, have you ever felt that way? Wanting something so badly that we tell Jesus what he should do. Maybe a loved one is experiencing physical or mental health issues? Do we not ask, maybe even demand complete healing from Jesus? If Jesus is our best friend, can we not say anything to him without recourse? Are we as bold with our conversations with Jesus as James and John?
James and John felt very close to Jesus, so they believed they could ask for anything they wanted. Not really thinking of the consequences of getting what they asked for. But when pushed to the limit, Jesus poses a question to them. Jesus is so masterful in doing this. He can disarm a situation before the inquirers even know what he is doing. He even gives them an out when he says, “You do not know what you are asking”. Then He asks the two apostles,” Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They answer very quickly and with determination, “We can”.
James and John were thinking about the kingdom and wanted to secure a place, telling Jesus they wanted to sit one at his right and the other at his left. At this point there were twelve apostles, but they wanted to be next to Jesus, sitting in a place of honor, when Jesus enters into His glory. This is where Jesus again, so masterful, asked them if they could drink from the cup he was going to drink from. To understand what Jesus was saying you must understand what this cup is. It is an important symbol of his suffering and death, it shows up in all four Gospels. What is the meaning of this cup? What was so terrible about it that even the thought of drinking it caused Jesus to be in agony? Remember in Matthew 26:39 Jesus said while in the garden, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will, but as you will.” He was in such agony that his sweat falling on the ground appeared as drops of blood. Of course, the cup symbolized the suffering he would be required to undergo in the horrible death that awaited him. And the two apostles just said they could drink from that cup.
What did being baptized in the baptism with which he was baptized mean? In Greek culture, baptism is a metaphor for being overwhelmed or immersed in something. This is similar to the modern cliché’ baptized by fire’ used when we mean overwhelmed by challenges. Now in Jewish times, the meaning was different. Baptism was a sign that one followed the teachings of a specific rabbi or school. In Jesus’ ministry, people were baptized as a sign of their repentance from sin.
The two Apostles were saying they would follow Jesus’ teachings and also live the life that Jesus lived and died. In all of this, did they really understand what they were saying yes to? Notice, Jesus does not get angry with them or scold them, he simply asks them if they can drink from the cup that he will drink from?
Jesus affirms they will drink of the cup he drinks from and be baptized with the same baptism, but to sit at his right and left is not up to him. It is for those for whom it has been prepared. On hearing all this exchange, the other ten apostles, the Gospel says, “became indignant at James and John”.
Jesus again, uses this as a teaching moment. He calls them all together and describes how the rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, showing their authority. He tells them, it will not be so among them. He reminds them that he came to serve not be served.
What is our lesson from this exchange? First we should not be afraid to ask Jesus for anything. He is our friend and will listen to our request. Next, we should be ready for how Jesus answers our requests or prayers. We know he always answers but it could take time for it to come to pass or maybe we don’t receive the answer we want. Our request or prayers, no matter how hard it might be, should always end just as Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, not my will but yours be done. And remember, to follow Jesus means to serve not be served.
All of us hunger for different things; travel, human relationships, financial security. But all of us have a deep abiding hunger for God. That relationship which transcends our nature, the limitations of this world. The desire for something more.
In the Gospel today, the rich man runs up to Jesus to show his deep desire to be with God forever; everlasting life. “…what must I do to inherit eternal life?" We all desire to attain eternal happiness; perhaps not every day, but deep down, it pervades our thoughts.
The rich man goes to the right person! Not to a political figure, a new age guru, but to God himself. Where would we go to find the right person? We can start with the Church. That’s where we find Christ in His true presence. Recall the fifth Joyous mystery: the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. When Jesus was lost on the way home from Jerusalem, where did Mary and Joseph find Him? In the house of the Lord; the Temple. And although Christ is indeed, everywhere, every Catholic Church contains the physical presence of the true Christ in the tabernacle. Go to the right person in the right place.
Jesus first lays out the things the rich man must do; the commandments primarily from the second tablet which uses the negative commands: thou shall not. To become a friend of Christ, come to the right place and the right person. Once there, as you seek eternal life, you’ll find that there are certain things that you must cut out of your life. Things in your path of love have to be omitted. You shouldn’t kill, or steal if you love others. You should not bear false witness, if you want to love others. These are sort of basic prohibitions if you’re interested in walking the way of love.
In today’s cultural climate, people can become very uneasy with religious rules and traditions. You will hear, “don’t make me feel guilty”, “don’t tell me what to do”. Our defense would be to make the comparison to our physical health. Let’s say you go to a hospital and run up to a famous doctor. How do I inherit good health? You have gone to the right place and person and asked what you must do. The doctor would most likely go the exact same route as Jesus. There are basic things one must do for the sake of good health. Thou shall not smoke, thou shall not live a sedentary life, thou shall not consume too much sugar. Those people receive praise for going to the right place; the right person and asking questions about their physical wellbeing. Here, culture accepts the thou shall nots of physical health, why am I so hesitant to not do what leads to spiritual health? No one objects to their doctor telling them how to improve their health. No one would say “don’t tell me what to do”, or “don’t make me feel guilty”.
But If we don’t take the doctor’s advice, his response would be, well it doesn’t bother me, you’re just not going to get healthy. But advice from the Church that echoes Christ? Sorry, I’m just telling you the truth! Disregard at your own peril.
The rich man does take in Jesus’ advice removing the basic impediments to love. Then Jesus looks, with love, at the man (after all, that’s what He is, love) And tells the man to sell his possessions; his wealth and give it away. Then focus on following Jesus, the source of true, everlasting happiness; the true end of our mission on earth. Jesus sees that the man is on the right path, but then He challenges him to live a life of radical love. His treasure is in Heaven. Not all of us can ascend to this radical way of life but all of us can do the basics.
Imagine going to the doctor and telling him that you have done the basics of health and you feel just great. But now, you want to step up your game; you want to be a Marathon runner. To enter into a more radical and uplifting movement towards your health. Same thing. The rich man is on the cusp of making the move into the spiritual “big leagues” but he stops. What would happen if you lived that radical life for Christ, your best friend; the giver of happiness? What would I give up to gain eternal life?
When I was younger, the Baltimore Catechism stated that the highest level of vocation was the Priesthood/religious life. Second best was marriage, then the consecrated single life. But after Vatican II, there was the acknowledgement that everyone is called to holiness and that every person’s singular vocation was the best way for them to gain salvation. No longer second best, we see that the Sacrament of Marriage is a vocation from God to work out our salvation in each other’s presence.
The Book of Genesis tells us that it is not good for man to be alone and God endeavors to find an appropriate partner for Adam. From the side of Adam comes Eve. At last bone and flesh of man. From Adam’s side, Eve is an equal in the partnership. Marriage should be, at its best, an equal and authentic type of friendship.
Even God Himself isn’t alone. God exists in a Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. A community of persons, a play of love; God is love, Jesus is the Beloved, Spirit is the binding love. This is the relation we endeavor to live in the Sacrament of Marriage. The lover, the beloved and the love that ties the two together. Whereas each of us is a representative of Christ in the word, a marriage is the representation of the Trinity in the world. All friendships are a communion, a union of people reflecting God’s love. But the Sacrament of Marriage is a higher plain of relationship; an intimate elevation of two who become one in Christ.
From the early Greek philosopher, Plato, there has always been a sense of duality of flesh and spirit with an emphasis on the spirit as better than the flesh. This dualism has endured through time. At the time of Augustine, Manichaeism saw the division of the spiritual and the physical. In later years, the Puritans, saw the separation of body and spirit and for some, these ideas endure today resulting in a sense that the body is bad, the soul is good. Beat the body into submission to enliven the soul.
But the Church does not hold to this. The physical body is good since Christ took on human flesh. Our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit while our souls are the image and likeness of God. In married love, sexual love is a symbol of God’s love for the world. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, tells us that rightly used sexuality doesn’t draw us away from God but is a sign of God’s passion of love for us. The conjugal union of the two in marriage reflects Christ in the Eucharist. We consume Christ and we become, literally one with Him.
Every sacrament has two signs; outward and inward. In Baptism, the outward sign is water, the inward sign is Christ washing away sin. In the Sacrament of Marriage, the outward sign is the consent given, the “I do” and “I shall” of the spouses. The inward sing is Christ tying the two souls together.
Every civilization has marriage, but in the Christian view, marriage is not a secular act or some social arrangement. Marriage has been brought about by God for His purposes. In this day and time, too often, marriage is seen as an imposition of the Church to impose its thoughts on personal decision. However, the Church is not imposing a law; but ratifying the instinct of love we have and uplifting it in marriage that intensifies the sense of the indissolubility of marriage. The Sacrament of Marriage is the original sacrament given to us by God and this sacrament is so strong, that it endured the Fall from Paradise and the Flood.
Life is hard and no, marriage is not easy. The two hardest jobs in the world are being married and raising children and neither have a handbook. Neither are easy because we are not God, but frail and faulty humans. The Sacrament of Marriage reflects the commandments to Love God and each other so we can say that If you want a bad marriage, take care of your needs. If you want a good marriage, concern yourself with your spouse’s needs. If you want a great marriage, concern yourself with Christ’s desires for us.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna…the unquenchable fire. When Jesus speaks of the alternative to Heaven, today he mentions Gehenna. Gehanna was the original place where the Israelites had moved away from the covenants and commandments of God to worship one of the many false gods of the time. The worship included the sacrificial deaths of children. Located very near Jerusalem, the area was eventually turned into a dump. Unlike our landfills of today, dumps were set on fire to consume debris and burned constantly; the unquenchable fire of the undeserving.
Many of us have seen this passage as hyperbole or the Jewish tradition of writing at the time which utilized graphic descriptions to make a point. After all, it does seem rather silly to cut off one’s hand or foot to change your life for the better. But, in another view, maybe Jesus utilized the language to really express the importance of what He wanted to say.
Donald Wyman was cutting down trees when one fell on his leg and trapped him. Bleeding to death with no help around, Donald, applied a tourniquet and with a pocket knife, cut off his own leg, dragged himself to his bulldozer and drove for help. He lived, but he cut off his leg to do so.
Aron Ralston, while hiking, fell and dislodged rocks on his way down. One rock fell on his arm. The rock was too heavy to move. After two days, fearing he would die of exposure, Aron, cut off his own arm and dragged himself to a nearby road, and flagged down help. He lived, but he cut off his arm to do so.
Both men were in mortal danger. Death would befall them if they had not performed such drastic measures to live.
Sin can weigh us down and as humans, we can become very comfortable in that sin. We can often rationalize that what we are doing is not that bad, but in reality it is pulling us from our spiritual life. Just as a national percentage, due to the number of people here, someone is addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography. Someone is abusing another person in some way, usually emotionally. Some are caught up into those “comfortable sins” from which we don’t really want to deprive ourselves.
What would you remove to eliminate to possibility of not making it to Heaven and ending up in an unquenchable garbage dump for eternity?
Deacon Tim Conley
The comments found in our 1st reading are representative of our culture’s reaction to the Catholic position on things like abortion, religious freedom and sexual morality. About the righteous man, people said: “Let us beset the just one because he is obnoxious to us!”. The word “beset” means to trouble or threaten someone persistently. It’s ironic that in today’s public square, supposedly so sensitive to diversity, every opinion is welcome except the Christian opinion! For many, the mere suggestion that they rethink their world view, their behavior or even consider the very concept of sin, is greatly offensive.
James points out what so many people fail to recognize, is that conflict comes from within themselves. Sharing the Gospel does not create conflict, it just brings to light that one already exists. So often pride gets in our way. And if the disciples were not immune to it, we need to watch ourselves. What made them so afraid to admit they did not understand when Jesus talked about his death and resurrection? What motivated them to argue about which of them was the greatest? Proverbs says: “Only by pride comes contention.”
In the Gospel, we don’t hear Jesus condemning the disciples for their need to feel important. It’s not depicted as something bad in itself. Jesus encourages them to become 1stby serving others. Pope Benedict the 16th said: “We were not created for comfort; we were created for greatness.” This is the way of freedom from the insecurity that comes through comparing ourselves to others. It’s the way out of a lifetime of the frustration that comes from competing with others for recognition.
By focusing on building others up, validating their accomplishments and affirming they are loved by God, we increase our own value in God’s Kingdom. The word “JOY” stands for Jesus, others and you. Jesus 1st, others 2nd and you 3rd.
Deacon Phil Moore
At the beginning of Chapter 9, we hear the familiar story of - The Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John had just seen Jesus transfigured before them. His garments became glistening, intensely white. They saw Elijah with Moses and they were talking with Jesus, if that was not enough, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”
What would you have thought about this encounter? Probably just what Jesus’ disciples thought. Oh boy, now we are getting somewhere, Jesus must be ready to take the throne and put on the crown. We are going to be victorious over our enemies! This would be a logical thought process after seeing this. And if that’s not enough the next thing they see Jesus doing is to drive out a demon from a young boy.
Jesus knows what is going on, so as they move through Galilee, even though there are crowds there to see him, he leaves the crowds to devote time to careful instruction of his apostles. He knows they need this time for what he is about to tell them, so that it will sink in. He goes to an out-of-the-way place so he can explain points of his public preaching which they had not understood. And then he tells them for the second time, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
At this point did they even hear what he said about the Son of Man will rise? I don’t think so; I think they were still on the death part. It would have been hard to get past that statement, especially after what they had just seen.
Sometimes we also need this alone time with Jesus, to contemplate and reflect on what He is telling us. Maybe we get hung up on the one statement and miss what Jesus is calling us to do. That’s when we must take a step back, reflect and listen. It was hard for Jesus’ apostles to understand this and it’s hard for us. Don’t give up, continue to allow Jesus to mold your life. He calls us to be with him in the quiet of prayer and there he teaches us about his more intimate plans and about the more demanding side of the Christian life. Cling to Jesus and his words.
Just like his apostles, sometimes we say things that we don’t think Jesus hears. His apostles found out the hard way when Jesus asked them what they were quietly discussing among themselves on the way. Before they could answer he told them what they had been discussing; who is the greatest among them? I’m sure they were embarrassed just like with us, Jesus does not make them feel bad, or put them down for being greedy. He uses the moment for teaching them how authority should be exercised in his Church; not by putting down others but by serving them. He explains to them as he is fulfilling his own mission to found the Church and they know he is the supreme head and lawgiver; that he is the Messiah yet he told them in Matthew 20:28, “he came to serve and not to be served.” This lesson is for all Christians. Anyone who does not strive to maintain this servant attitude, not only lacks one of the main pre-requisites for proper exercise of authority but also runs the risk of being motivated by ambition or pride.
Jesus could not make this any plainer, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He even gives us an example. He places a child in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” The little child whom Jesus embraces represents every child in the world, and everyone who is needy, helpless, poor or sick. People who we might normally pass by.
Let us pray to Jesus, that we embrace true humility and become a servant to all.
Our expectations are not God’s expectations. Today, Jesus shows us that our ways are not the ways of God. The Jewish people had been promised a Messiah. They had waited for centuries for the Messiah to show up. And their expectation of this promised Messiah would be a person of power; a leader who would drive out all of Israel’s enemies, a military figure who would restore the glory of Israel. Jesus arrives on the scene. He is a powerful preacher. His words come with authority and there is something special about Him, He can heal the sick, the blind, the lame. But He is not a fighter, He’s a lover.
Jesus gathers His closest followers and asks, “Who do people say that I am?” Some say, “Elijah.” Maybe, “John the Baptist.” They are comparing Jesus to their greatest religious figures. In our terms, imagine saying that a politician we know is “a new Lincoln”. “A new Jefferson.” Or, comparing a theologian as “a new Augustine.” “A new Thomas Aquinas. “Jesus’ followers had proclaimed that He was the best at what He did; He is special.
But then Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” And Jesus says, “yes, I am.” His followers realize that the Messiah has come and they are standing next to God; God standing among men. But Jesus is not a military leader. Instead His mantra is “Turn the other cheek…. Love your enemies.” Jesus begins to tell His followers that …The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…” How will this accomplish anything? Where is the expected warrior?
But we know that by His death and resurrection, Jesus has regained, for everyone the opportunity to enter the gates of Heaven. By assuming our flesh and blood and becoming Man, God has redeemed all of humanity, purchased for us salvation and even given greater dignity to us by allowing us to be called Children of God. Good Friday was the total abandonment of Jesus of everything the world could offer, and by doing so, He gained for all of us everything Heaven could supply. He fulfills the statement he makes today in the Gospel, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, …whoever loses his life for my sake … will save it." By giving His life, He has saved ours. Jesus’ coming, the Messiah’s coming saved not just the Jews, but provided for every human, throughout all time the opportunity to live eternally in a New Jerusalem; devoid of war, suffering, worry. Eventually Jesus rises from the dead and ascends back to His Father. But the Messiah makes a way to be with us in the Eucharist. Just as the Apostles stood toe to toe with Christ, in the Eucharist, we hold him in our hands and make Jesus part of us. Thinking the Messiah would free Israel from all its enemies by military force becomes the reality that through peace, we overcome those who hate us. Why did Jesus save us is in this manner? Unexpected by humans, it is God’s plan, not ours.
Listen to this story where things don’t go the way think they should: An attractive, young, wealthy woman enters into the office of a psychiatrist. “I am not happy. My life has no point. I can’t find fulfillment. I would be better off dead than alive.” The psychiatrist tells her to wait and he brings in an elderly woman, aged by years, who works as an assistant in his office. She has a wide smile and a look of contentment and satisfaction on her face. The psychiatrist asks the elderly woman to tell the younger woman her “secret to happiness.” The elderly woman begins. “I used to live in a fine house. I had fine clothes and a wonderful family. I was young. I was happy. I had everything I wanted. Then one day, my husband was rushed to the hospital with an unexpected heart attack. He died. Neither of us had prepared for a sudden death and financially, I had to sell the house and all our belongings. I went to work to provide for the only lodging we could afford; a small apartment. We lived from paycheck to paycheck. And then, my son, my only child, was killed in an automobile accident. Everything had been stolen from me. I was depressed, afraid, and alone. I didn’t think I would ever be happy again. I held onto what little I had and knew I had nothing to give to others. Life was all about me, my sorrows, my pain.
Years passed. And one day I came across an abandoned puppy at my back door. I gave the puppy a little food and it came back the next day. I took the puppy in, gave it a bath and cared for it. The puppy rewarded me with a wagging tail and the joy of just being with me; accepting me.
For the first time in a long time, I found myself smiling. I experienced moments of happiness. I realized that caring for this little puppy made me happy. Perhaps if I cared for others outside myself, I could find even more happiness. I prepared a batch of brownies and took them to a neighbor who was homebound. I found happiness. And the more I did for others, the more I gave of myself, the happier I became. When I starting giving my life, myself to others, then I found happiness.
Jesus gave up everything and His suffering renders for us the greatest joy. He asks us to follow His example; He asks us to follow Him. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, … whoever loses his life for my sake … will save it." The happy woman begins to give to others rather than hold on to her sorrow.
Our expectations are not God’s expectations.
Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word was in the beginning and the Word was with God; the Word was God. The words we speak tend to fade as we fade. Yes, perhaps some of us, in our speech, may say things that last beyond us; the words of Shakespeare, Plato, or Lincoln. But, for most of us, our words will die with us. The Word of God is different. When God speaks, things happen. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light; “Let us make human beings in our image,” we were made. Then finally, the Word was made flesh; Jesus, and He came and spoke to us of the fulfillment of the Law.
In the Gospel for today, the Word, Jesus Himself, is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah we heard this morning, “…the ears of the deaf be cleared…then the tongue of the mute will sing.” And so, a deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. Jesus touches the ears of the deaf man and speaks the Aramaic word, “Ephphatha!”’ and His word makes things happen. BE OPENED! And the deaf man hears. And his hearing now allows his speech impediment to be resolved. A beautiful miracle beyond the understanding of medicine, science, and nature.
Jesus did heal physically, that’s the main reason people gathered around him so much in the first place; the blind, the deaf, the lame, the cripple; all seeking to be physically healed. But there is also a deeper meaning to today’s account. Jesus’ word, ““Ephphatha!” means something in terms of a physical healing for the man who is deaf, but it also means for us, to open our ears and to remove our speech impediment.
What is one of the most common issues for our church? “Ephphatha! The Word may be presented to us, but are our ears open? St. Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing. And if our ears are closed, then there naturally follows a speech impediment; we don’t know how to shape the words if we can’t, or won’t, hear them. How often do we shy away when we are challenged to explain our faith? As a whole, many of us don’t know how to verbally express or explain our faith. We have a speech impediment because we have not heard. Jesus cures the man in the Gospels, and there is a cure for us. As we tell our Kindergartners, “turn on our listening ears!” Incorporate the words we hear and remove our speech impediments.
Through our Baptisms, we are all members of the Royal Priesthood. We are all Priests, Prophets, and Kings or Queens. All of us are called to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” But how?
First of all, live your faith; be courageous and bold about just living a good Catholic life. Others will notice. But don’t be afraid of questions about your faith. If someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. “I don’t know” is a good response. But always add, “I’ll find out the answer and be sure to get back with you.” Teach yourself and others. But if an argument arises, leave. We never proclaim our faith by arguing.
Where do you find answers? My e-mail is in the bulletin. My phone number is in the bulletin. I live here; that’s one source for questions. And for most of us, merely ask your phone. Everything is on-line; every teaching, every practice of the faith. Of course, if it’s on-line, you have to check its validity. I would suggest the following site: Catholic.com. Answers and explanations are right there.
The God of Mercy always hears us. He loves us so much that He sent His Word among us. And God Said, “This is my beloved Son…. listen to Him. Ephphatha! Be opened!
The Law is the joy and pride of Israel. They celebrate the Law as a great gift given to from God. Listen to the first reading today from Deuteronomy:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you…you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.”
In a totalitarian society, the law is arbitrary, expressing the will of the dictator, but in a properly functioning society, the law is the means by which a people is shaped. God’s law is an expression of His will; His intention for His people. When we follow the His commandments, we are conformed to the mind of God. And it is pretty simple. Think of the laws we have just for driving. God’s law consists of just ten precepts which can be boiled down to the two greatest: love God and your neighbor as yourself. In the New Testament Jesus demonstrates a continued respect for the Law. As God, He has not come to destroy or change the law but to bring it to perfection.
What happens in every religious tradition? Alongside the tenets of a specific faith, let’s say, the law of that religion, there develops, quite naturally, practices, ceremonies, behaviors and traditions that don’t negate the laws, but rather enhance and add a colorful and expressive quality to the law. Again, in the Gospel, we see some of the expressions of the Law for the Jews. “—For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves…” Now these accompanying attributes are not bad, but Jesus’ problem today is that there is more importance on the attributes than the Law itself.
In reference to the Law and the connected expressive customs, let’s use the image of a tree. The trunk is the core, the law, if you will; the leaves are the customs and practices. Right now, when we look at the trees, we basically see the leaves. Leaves are expressive of the tree and we have to look hard to really see the core of the tree. When Autumn comes, the leaves fall and the core of the tree is revealed. Next spring, new leaves come. But the leaves are not the true essence of the tree. They come and go. So the essence of the Law is surrounded by these decorative customs. Often, we humans can see the customs more important than the law; a tendency to see the leaves and not the tree. When we make this mistake, we end up paying God a kind of “lip service”. This is what Jesus is telling us today. The leaders are complaining about Jesus and His follows not following the customs. But Jesus’ tells us that not one iota of the law should be changed.
Let’s look at this dimension of tree and leaves in our Catholic liturgy. Has the Mass retained a basic structure over the centuries? Yes. Has the Mass in its external practices and symbols changed over the centuries? Yes.
Taken from the catechism, #1345 is a commentary on the liturgy at its beginning. It quotes St. Justin Martyr who wrote around the year 150 AD the following about the Mass:” On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.” (Here we are; all gathered in the same place). “The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read…” (The liturgy of the word; Old Testament, psalm, New Testament and Gospel.) Then, “When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.” (The homily.) “Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves….and for all others…” (The Prayers of the Faithful.) “When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. (Not exactly what we do, but similar.) “Then someone brings bread and ….and wine …to him who presides…” (That’s our presentation of the gifts at offertory.” “He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father….” (The Eucharistic Prayer). “When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice …by saying: 'Amen.' “We sing that.” And finally, “…those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread [and] wine…” (Communion.”
We can still recognize the core. From 150 AD, the law of the Mass is still with us today. But have the externals, the style, the symbols, the ceremonial practices, the behaviors of celebration of the liturgy changed? Yes. Down through the centuries, the core remains the same, but a house Mass of the 2nd century varies from a Roman Basilica Mass of the 6th century or an 11th century Mass in a Gothic cathedral, a pre-Vatican II Mass in New York in the 50’s, down to Mass here today at Nativity; different customs and behaviors; not the same external/ qualities but the core is the same. What’s the danger? Sometimes, we begin clinging to the leaves and not the tree. For some conservatives in the Church, the danger is that they resent any of the leaves changing at all, they can think everything is the “tree”. For liberals, everything is leaves to be changed without deference to the core.
The ultimate danger is that many of us even remove part of the tree’s core; the law without any thought. We have so many that show up for their sacraments, but don’t bother coming to Mass. The entire law shapes us. Of the small number of 10 laws, many don’t hold onto the core in its entirety. Is it a sin to kill? Yes, it is the law. Is it a sin to steal? Yes, it is the law. Is it a sin to miss Mass unnecessarily? Yes, because it is the third commandment of the law; keep Holy the Lord’s day.
Laws shape us and God’s laws shape us to conform our lives to God. We should not add or subtract from this law.
Transubstantiation. Across substances. This is St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Aristotelian philosophy deals with substances and accidents. What something is equals their substance. All humans share the substance of human. Accidents (not like an accident requiring medical treatment) are the qualities of the substance. In our sharing of the substance of humanness, we are all still different. Our accidents are how we identify one substance from another. The bread we use at Mass has the substance of bread with the accidents, that is the quartiles of being round and tan.
Christ, Himself shares in the substance of humanness since He is human, but also the substance of God; true man; true God. At the moment of consecration, the substance of Jesus drives out the substance of the bread and wine, but the qualities; the accidents, do not change. The quality of the bread remains round, tan and the wine continues to look, taste, and smell like wine. The accidents or qualities of Jesus do not participate in transubstantiation; across substances. If the qualities, the attributes of Christ were to appear, we would have a grown individual on the altar and we would indeed be cannibals consuming toes and fingers. This is how we consume Christ into our bodies. We become like Christ and He becomes like us.
In the Gospel today, many walked away when they hear Jesus is offering His Body and Blood as real food; real drink. But Jesus does not back down. He continues that there is a reality involved; not a symbol of His presence in the Eucharist. The bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood.
Although many leave, the Church accepts the right answer. Peter, speaking for the Apostles, the authority of the Church at its beginning, says, “Lord to whom shall we go…?” We believe what you say! This is a central teaching of the Church; a dogmatic issue to which there is no wiggle room. Are you with or against? The saints have unanimously accepted and loved the Eucharist. And that’s what we all want to be: saints. A sign of heresy is an inability to accept this dogmatic teaching. Sadly, a fact that should unite us has become divisive.
What are the arguments against transubstantiation? Firstly, of course, it was taken wrong by the Jews. In the 11th century, an intelligent and pious monk, Berengelius came up with a different slant on the Eucharist. Since Christ had ascended into Heaven and now existed there in His glorified state, how could He simultaneously be present on all the altars of the Church? He proposed that the Eucharist was not really Christ, but a symbolic representation of the Body and Blood of Christ which offers us a spiritual participation in Christ. It’s rational, common sensicale and rather easy to grasp. The Church answered with a definitive no. Read the sixth chapter of John. Real food, real drink.
At the Protestant Reformation, the two best known Protestant theologians were Calvin and Luther. Luther said that Christ was present in the Eucharist, but the bread and wine did not change. Rather Christ was attached to the Eucharistic elements. There was no substantial exchange The Church again said no. Read John, chapter 6, my flesh is real food; real drink. The Church theologians said that if Christ did not become the bread, we would be worshiping the bread alone. That would be idolatry.
Calvin said that there was no transubstantiation but through the liturgy the Holy Spirit was working through the elements of bread and wine. Common sense, yes, but the Church still refutes. St. Aquinas tells us that in the other 6 sacraments, Christ does work through the elements and the power of Christ is at work, but in the sacrament of the Eucharist, ipse Christus, Christ is personally, really and substantially present. At Baptism, we bless the water and the power of Christ works through the water but we do not preserve the water because Christ is not present Himself in the water. We preserve the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ, Himself. Ipse Christus.
Then there was a lesser known name who had a much lasting effect on the Eucharist. Huldrych Zwingli, from Switzerland, proposed that one line in John, chapter 6 clarified the intent of Christ. That line states, “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.” And so, the Eucharist presents only the spirit of Christ; not the flesh. A big influence on the Baptist and Anabaptists. This passage lifted from the entire 6th chapter of John would make sense, but you have to have the passage in context to the words, chapter and book written around it.
In the 20th century, theologians attempt to move from transubstantiation to transignification. The bread and wine merely take on a representative value such as a ring in the Sacrament of Matrimony take on a new level of meaning as signifying love or a flag signifies the reality of a country. Again, the Church says no. Bread and wine; flesh as real food; blood real drink
Then there is the argument I heard of a present day evangelist: Jesus said. “I am the vine you are the branches”, but He’s not a plant, Jesus said, “I am the living water”, but He’s not a lake. “I am the light of the world”, but He’s not a light bulb. But when we look at these statements, all of them are mere references. The information we find in John, Chapter 6, drive home a reality. A reality that is difficult for some, but through faith, we, as Catholics, must say, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life”.
The Ark of the Covenant may seem very distant to us, but to the Jews, it was very important. The Ark contained the presence and power of God on earth. The Ark is the reason for the Temple being built; to house the Ark of the Covenant; to provide a proper house for God on earth. Before the Temple was built, the Israelites would carry the Ark with them as they traveled and even took the Ark with them into battle. The presence of God was with them within the Ark.
The Ark moved around, even lost in battle at one time to the Philistines, until finally it rested in the city of David, Jerusalem and housed in the Temple of Solomon. The last mention of the Ark is the 2 Chronicles; 35. Historically, it is lost and gone. For Christians, it really holds only an historical place in salvation history.
The New Testament, gives us a new ark that carries the presence of God. The new Ark is the womb of Mary, the theotokos, or “Christ Bearer.”
In the first reading for today, we are placed in the Divine court of Heaven; and we find the Ark, Mary in her proper place. And just as the Jews carried the Ark into battle, Mary, the new Ark, is once again ready to do battle. The woman, standing on the moon with a crown of 12 stars is ready to give birth and a dragon is waiting to destroy the child. The 12 stars are the number of governance, of authority in Jewish numerology. Imagine the fight. Imagine a father in a hospital room, his wife ready to give birth and a monster is waiting just outside the door. The parents would fight for their child.
What does the dragon represent? Perhaps Rome, at the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation. The “monster” ready to devour the first Christians, the 7 heads representing the 7 hills of Rome. Perhaps the dragon represents every worldly power; powers bent on the subjugation of peoples through intimidation, threats and violence. The child born of Mary is soon to fight against the powers of the world. Jesus Himself will defeat the wisdom of the world and bring about a new way of life compelled by love and gentleness. The Church, established by Christ, doesn’t conquer by weapons or threats, rather, it overwhelms the foe by charity and love.
The Gospel brings us to the visit of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth. The child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. Remember how David, who himself was a mighty warrior, danced and leapt for joy ahead of the Ark when it was brought into his city. John the Baptist is dancing in the womb before the new Ark carrying God Himself. In the womb, John recognizes Christ who is on His first evangelical mission; a mission made possible by Mary, the Ark carrying her Son in her womb; an argument against abortion, if there ever was one.
And then, Mary proclaims through the Magnificat words of war; fighting words. “He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; ……. the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to ……to Abraham and his children forever."
We remember today that Mary, conceived without sin, was assumed into Heaven’ body and soul. Our promise of a physical existence in Heaven where our reward will be an eternity of happiness existing, not only in a spiritual sense, but in a physical reality; with all our senses to see, smell, taste, touch and hear all the pleasures Heaven has to offer us.
Mary is never far from her Son. The Ark is present in Heaven. And we can once again take the Ark into battle with us. We can take Mary with us. The Queen of Virtue, a powerful source of help in our battles against sin, corruption and the powers that work against us on our journey back to the Father. And to that end, we are provided with our “weapon of mass destruction” the Rosary. Perhaps the most powerful force on earth is a mother fighting for her child. Our blessed mother is fighting for us by prayer and intercession on our behalf.
Our Gospel today comes from John, Chapter 6, the Bread of Life Discourse. The overall discourse in broken into two parts. The first part, which we cover today is Jesus affirming His divinity. Just as the Manna of the Israelites came down from Heaven, Jesus affirms that He is the true bread of life Who has come down from Heaven. He is God. The second part of the discourse coming later deals with the affirmation of the Sacrament itself; the reality of the True Presence in the Eucharist.
For many, the reaction that Jesus is the true Bread of Life brought on the reaction of revulsion; Jesus is insane. The law says that one does not drink the blood of any animal and cannibalism is repulsive. But Jesus does not back away from his literal meaning even though many leave. Jesus means literally means to eat and drink His body and blood.
But, as we have discussed before, the transubstantiation brings about the substances of Christ, not the physical attributes of His body. So, we do not heat the fingers and toes of Jesus, but we do consume the substance of Christ which does contain within it the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
We have a God Who does not want to stand over, behind or under us, but loves us so much He wants to be as close as He can to us; to become a part of us; to dwell within us. We consume the Perfect Food, Jesus Himself Who becomes part of us at a cellular level. We become like Jesus
Think of the Sacrament of Marriage where the two become one. Man and woman unite and the two become one and let no human divide. The most intimate communication/connection between a man and a woman; a nuptial joining of the two. Jesus, through the Eucharist becomes that close, we become one with Him. A different, yet similar nuptial relationship of the two becoming one. Jesus and you become one.
The only way we can mentally connect to God, as humans, is with flesh. If Jesus had not taken on flesh, we would only have a nebulous thought of a sort of cloud-like being as our God, but in flesh, we relate to a human God. When Jesus took on flesh, he made flesh divine. Yes, we are all made in the image and likeness of God. That’s our soul. But we are all also made in the image and likeness of Jesus. That’s our bodies. In our person, we manifest to the world, God in our spirit, Jesus in our Flesh and additionally carry the physical reality of Christ within us as we become individual tabernacles carrying Christ to the world when we are made one with Him by receiving the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives. Not because the Eucharist is some THING but because the Eucharist is some ONE.
Deacon Tim Conley
Our readings talk about a hunger that every human heart experiences on a daily basis. The gospel talks about where to go with that hunger.
Imagine lowering an empty bucket into a river, after a storm. Water comes rushing in, leaves and all. Our soul is like that empty bucket, forever pulling in from everything around us. Designer goods, gourmet food and wine, the pleasures of the body and the praise of those around us. But tomorrow, it’s always something new, something else and something more.
It can be a very uncomfortable feeling to stop the medicating with over-work, surfing the net, TV and eating when we’re not hungry and look into that vacuum that only God can fill! Addictions thrill us in the moment but ultimately lead to boredom.
In psalm 62, David says: “God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.” The difference between a David and an addict is that the David identifies what he’s hungering for. For God to plan in us a hunger he does not plan to satisfy, is to create us only for a cruel and joyless existence. In John, chapter 17, Jesus’ prayer says that is not true: “Father, I pray that they may have the full measure of my joy in them.”
When it comes to religion, our culture offers us it’s way or the highway: the happiness of self-absorption or the rigid self-denial of religion, that leads to neurosis. Jesus came to offer us the 3rdoption: “He that comes to me shall never hunger, he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
As we come to the Eucharist today, we come to the bread of life. Let us pray: “Lord, I come to you to fill up the empty space in me. I bring to you every hunger of my heart. Let me drink in the Spirit of your presence and I will be satisfied.”
Deacon Phil Moore
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Words from our Gospel.
Going to Jesus means believing in him, for it is through faith that we approach our Lord. Jesus uses the metaphor of food and drink to show that he is the one who really meets all man’s desires. Saint Josemaria Escriva tells us, “How beautiful is our Catholic faith! It provides a solution for all anxieties, calms our minds and fills our hearts with hope.”
We have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat” this was a popular saying in the 1960’s. It was the title of a book published in 1940, but the origin and truth of this statement go much further and deeper. In 1863 the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said, “Man is what he eats.” Before him a Frenchman named Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” And before that, a first century Jew, named Jesus said, “Eat perishable food and you will die, eat food that endures and you will have eternal life.” What we take in, the way in which we nourish ourselves, determines our health and wellbeing not only physically but emotionally, and spiritually.
When we hunger, it’s not just a physical state. Hunger is very much tied to our spiritual life. We have a hunger for our God. Jesus had just feed the crowd so they were looking for him because of the physical nourishment not because of the great sign they had seen. However, Jesus realized the importance of feeding them physically, so he uses the opportunity to explain this food that will perish. He introduces them to the food that endures for eternal life. He tells them that He is the bread of life; and that whoever comes to him will never hunger, and whoever believes in him will never thirst. In this dialogue, Jesus is trying to bring them to an act of faith in him, so that he can then openly reveal to them the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. Jesus is telling them that their attitudes are wrong. If they have the right attitude they will be able to understand his teaching in the Eucharistic.
This had to be one of those moments where some believed and some had doubts. Put yourself in this scene. You got into a boat and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. You find him and all you can say is, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” That sounds rather silly and trite to say, in the literal sense, but the crowd is really asking Jesus not “When” but “Why” did he leave them? The verses that follow shows the crowd was focused on free food and political concerns. They did not understand why he left. Would we have felt the same way? Would we understand what Jesus was trying to tell us? The people were seeking - - but not after the truth. They were only looking for selfish reasons. Would we fall into that category? Do we seek Jesus for the truth?
Jesus reveals that he was sent by the Father and that he is the bread of life, everyone who believes in him has eternal life. The crowd still does not understand; they continue to question Jesus. Jesus tells them that the work of God is to believe in the one he sent. This only confuses them, so they ask another question, “what sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” They call to mind what happened when their ancestors were in the desert and Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat. Jesus tells them, it was not Moses but his Father that sent the bread for physical nourishment but now his Father is sending true bread from heaven.
This poor crowd again is confused and says to Jesus. “Sir, give us this bread always!” Jesus tells them again, that he is the bread of life, and whoever eats this bread will never hunger again.
Going to Jesus means believing in him, for it is through faith that we approach our Lord. Lucky for us, we have the benefit of 2,000 years of history and have heard and believe that we have the true bread sent down from heaven to give us eternal life. We have the Eucharist - - the true presence of Jesus, body and blood.
We can’t forget about those who have not yet heard of Jesus through no fault of their own. The Church teaches through the documents of Vatican II that they too, if they lead a good life, can also attain heaven. As Jesus said, it is the Father’s will that He should not lose anything of what he was given.
Quoting from Saint John Paul II, “The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift . . . among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.”