Fr. Alex’s Corner, August 26, 2018
“Lord, to whom shall we go?”
(the words of St. Peter to Jesus, John 6:68)
A sad story in John’s Gospel on this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time! Jesus was promising He would “nourish” the people with His Body and Blood. It was hard to believe. Some accused Jesus of cannibalism. And Jewish people would not touch blood. It made them ritually impure. Jesus was trying to explain. But what some people heard was that Jesus was NOT the Messiah they expected or desired. He didn’t fit their job description.
And so, many of them left! Would you believe!
Some suggested that Jesus “tone it down a bit.” He didn’t. And so, people left. In this very sad scene, Jesus asked the disciples, “Do you also want to leave?” The impetuous Peter responded, “Master, to whom shall we go? We have come to believe … you are the Holy One of God.”
So often, in private prayer, I tell Jesus that “if I were there, I know that I would have believed and followed You wholeheartedly.” But … would I…?
Life’s disappointments figure HUGE in our faith life. Jesus did say, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will grant.” So why doesn’t He?
In today’s first Reading (Joshua Ch. 24) Joshua, the successor to Moses, calls the people to proclaim their faith and devotion to God. You see, there were 12 tribes in Israel, and they were pretty much like us where people divide themselves into cliques, gangs, (and voting blocks) based on ethnicity, social class, wealth, and mutual expectations. That leads to turf wars, conflict, lack of mutual respect and even violence. Joshua was not offering options. He was challenging them to re-commit themselves to One God, One Faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus knows some people are simply not ready to believe in Him. Those who can’t or won’t believe walk away (sadly, I’m sure). Those who believe become His disciples.
I surmise that most of us want to believe, and we struggle with our disappointments. How many people leave the Church when a parochial school or parish is closed, a beloved teacher, priest, or parish program is changed? I just received a text from loved ones (very much loved ones!) who are leaving the Church because of the latest priest sexual abuse news. I get it. Someday I may tell you of a moment or two when I was tempted to give it all up. Not for sympathy. Just to be real! But…
This is a Joshua moment: “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” Or, a Simon Peter moment: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” I don’t minimize the pain and destruction of any crisis, especially one caused by God’s ministers. But what do you think people thought when St. Paul admitted he was at least complicit (if not involved) in killing early followers of Jesus? Tradition tells that St. Peter wept so much when admitting his triple denial of Jesus that tears caused deep furrows on his cheeks. All the apostles had to admit they abandoned Jesus when He needed them most.
Joshua and Peter teach that faith is an embrace of a God-Person, rather than an ideology or club membership. That’s the clue. Our Faith is in Jesus Christ, the God-Person who will never fail us.
So when people leave for any reason, it can be understood. Grief is real. BUT IT’S WRONG!
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
“As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (And, God be praised, the people responded: “We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”)
One important thought: I have learned that the daily and Sunday Mass Readings can guide us. They are not fairy tales. It is God’s word. Look to it for guidance. St. Francis always prayed, “Lord, what do YOU want ME to do,” and opened the Gospels. He always got an answer. We will, too.
May God grant you PEACE.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, August 19, 2018
“There is nothing so bad
that some good can’t come from it.”
[St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta]
I’m struggling with Mother Teresa’s eternal optimism in the wake of that damning report from Pennsylvania on the priest sex abuse crisis. It is devastating, humiliating, and terrible. In one place I read, “this is a hard time to be Catholic.” It is! May I add, “this is a hard time to be a Catholic priest!”
Most of those stories were previously reported. It’s not all new news, rather a new and fuller investigation of old crimes, and totaling the statistics from several dioceses adds to the ugliness.
I’ve been thinking whether to address this in my blog. What should I say? So, if it’s something you don’t want to hear, I’m sorry. And if I say the wrong thing, I’m sorry. In case you never heard a priest say “I’m sorry” for this whole mess, you hear it now from this priest. There are so many aspects to this, it’s like trying to grab hold of falling burning embers.
We are talking about sin. Serious Sin. Jesus said, “whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better that a great millstone be hung around his neck and that he be cast into the sea.” (Matt 18:6) Yes, Jesus said that! And I surmise He meant it.
It is also a crime that should never have been allowed to continue. That’s not Monday-morning quarterbacking. It’s common sense. Morality 101.
My friends, most of the 50 years of my priesthood were spent in and around schools. I was privileged to work with good Friars, Sisters, and Lay People to educate and form young Christians. It was the very best of vocations within a vocation. The times were not easy. Our years of ministry saw a war get very ugly. Almost everyone knew someone fighting in Vietnam and “thank you for your service” was not the welcome our soldiers heard upon their return. Assassinations, impeachments, and burning cities were in the news, as was the sexual revolution, the beginning of family breakdown, and the use of drugs. The Church was in tension, too, as some insisted on change immediately, while others wanted to keep saying dominus vobiscum.
That was our world and we tried so hard to protect our kids from its evils and prepare them to survive and thrive in a new and crazy world. No, we did NOT know that some of us were using these moments of madness to introduce a madness of their own. Why didn’t we know it? I don’t know. It wasn’t like today, when someone burps and you get instant sound and smell on your cell phone.
If we heard of “an incident” or a rumor, we thought it was just that. Whoever is in charge will act.
Well, now we know different. And it hurts! It hurts us, and we cringe at how many young lives were “caused to stumble….” God help them, and we must help them, too.
So, what now? My friends, prepare for more of these investigations, because there will be more.
If I were a pastor or school administrator today I would try to assure our people that things have changed. The media will not announce that. But for several years now, verifiable policies are in place to protect our children. I doubt that anyone understands the investigations required before any priest moves from one location to another. If Mother Teresa is right, and “some good” can come from this, I would hope to see the day when it can be said, and believed, that the safest place for a child is in a Catholic school or parish program. We need to work towards that.
And I can’t help remembering what my Mother taught us so many years ago: Never tell a lie. You always need a second lie to cover for the first, then a third lie to cover for the second, and soon, your whole life is a lie. The Church has learned that the hard way, and we all need to remember that.
Meanwhile, yes, this is a hard time to be a Catholic. We have lost moral authority and it is easy to be paralyzed. But we can’t allow that. Jesus promised that His Church would last forever. Even the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The Church will last not because of us living stones, who are indeed sinners, but because Jesus said it would. He doesn’t sin. He is not paralyzed. He can’t even stay dead!
Let us pray for all the victims, and for one another, too.
May Jesus touch our hearts with His Peace!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, August 12, 2018
19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“May you be hungry for God even more than
for the daily bread.” (Pope St. John Paul II)
I read this story (don’t know how true): a lady walked up the Communion aisle. Just as she put out her hand, her cell phone buzzed. She pulled the phone out of her pocket, looked up at the priest, awkwardly pointing to her cell phone. The priest said: “Tell them we don’t deliver.”
This Sunday’s Gospel continues John’s (6:41-51) story of Jesus feeding 5000 people in the desert. The crowd sought Him out and He told them that there would not be another mass feeding. Jesus said, “I AM the Bread that came down from Heaven,” and the crowd began to murmur. They asked for a SIGN that He and what He was saying was truly of God. He said that the feeding was all the SIGN they needed. God had sent bread to their ancestors on their way to the Promised Land many centuries ago. That bread was from God, not Moses, and God was again sending them “bread.”
The history of God’s people Israel was long and complicated. There were times when they were faithful to the Covenant, and those “other times,” too. They asked God for a KING. God sent Shepherd-Kings to lead and protect His flock. They wanted a monarch king like other nations. The monarch kings led them to wars, conquests, and pagan alliances, which introduced false gods into their nation and even into the Temple. NOT GOOD!
God sent PROPHETS to proclaim the Covenant. God’s prophets were good and faithful. When they gained respect and fame, false prophets appeared to get that respect and fame. They were not honest, not inspired by God. They said what the people wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. They misguided the people. NOT GOOD!
God established a PRIEST family to offer authentic worship in the Temple. Some priests were faithful others were not. At best, they were concerned with temple activity: what the people did in church, not what they did in the world. NOT GOOD!
So, God sent His Son, from Heaven, to be a SHEPHERD-KING, a GOOD SHEPHERD; a PROPHET to not only speak the words of God but to be THE WORD OF GOD; and a PRIEST, to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people and to be THE SACRIFICE for the sins of the people. Now this was GOOD NEWS!
Jesus came as KING, PROPHET, and PRIEST. (That’s what He expects His Church to be; that’s what He expects of EACH OF US in the unique circumstances of our lives.)
Just as God sent bread to His people on their journey to the Promised Land, now God sends Jesus, our Bread of Life, to nourish us on our faith journey to our Promised Land. It’s as simple as that, and as critical as that.
Jesus’ critics claimed He did not follow all the rules they had made. Jesus said He obeyed all the rules which God had made. They criticized His eating and mingling with “prostitutes and sinners.” That was true. But what they missed was that prostitutes and sinners who met Jesus ceased being prostitutes and sinners. He healed them and they were converted. That’s right! Jesus came to save PEOPLE, not Rules and Regulations. The true follower of Jesus, who is nourished by this BREAD FROM HEAVEN, sees other people as God sees them: everyone a potential soul to be saved. We need to be reminded of that in this day and age when we - who call ourselves CHRIST-ians – might just as soon annihilate another person rather than be a Christ to him/her, or to see Christ in him/her.
When God’s SHEPHERD-KINGS, PROPHETS, and PRIESTS are no longer GOD’S Shepherd-Kings, Prophets, and Priests, will God seek out someone else –or send Some One Else to do His bidding? Each time we receive Jesus, the Bread from Heaven in Holy Communion, let’s think about WHO is feeding us, and WHY! “May we be hungrier for God than for our “daily bread.”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, August 5, 2018
18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“The Lord gave them bread from heaven.”
In last week’s blog I explained how Mark’s Gospel is traditionally used for the YEAR B Sunday cycle, but for the next few weeks we will read John’s version of Jesus feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. (The Red Lobster Restaurant is envious!) John lived a long life. He was exiled to the island of Patmos where he established a strong Christian community. In time, there were divisions, and John uses the Feeding story to teach his Eucharistic community how to live and resolve their problems. Sitting around a common Eucharistic Table makes them a faith FAMILY. If they can’t resolve their problems like a FAMILY, something is lacking in their understanding of what Jesus was “feeding” them in the Eucharist. That is John’s argument! And we need to hear it, too.
Today’s narrative tells how the crowds were looking for Jesus. He told them quite candidly that they were expecting another free meal. He says that the food He came to give is not a dietary supplement.
In the conversation which follows Jesus explains how their ancestors found bread in the desert on their way to the Promised Land (see Exodus, Ch. 16, today’s First Reading). Jesus says that it was not Moses who provided that bread. That came from God. “The Lord gave them bread from heaven.” That they could not keep it overnight (it would spoil), but had to collect it every morning, was a SIGN that God was always taking care of them. That was the lesson, and the ancient people learned it well. That’s what it meant to be God’s chosen people! Theirs was a unique relationship with God, who promised to take care of all their needs.
The people ask Jesus for a SIGN so they can believe in Him. He repeats that it is their God (His Father) who gives them bread which gives life to the world. They ask for more of this bread. Jesus says “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE; WHOEVER COMES TO ME WILL NEVER HUNGER.”
The conversation continues, but today’s Gospel stops here.
Our world has many hungers. Jesus, the WORD of God, heals those hungers by His teaching. When He teaches His Apostles how to pray, one line says, “Give us this day our daily bread….” Thus we ask God for all we need to live our lives safely, sanely, and sacredly. We believe God can deliver.
The 1976 International Eucharistic Congress was held in Philadelphia (to honor the U.S. bicentennial). Pope Paul VI, too infirm to attend, delegated Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, a future pope, to represent him. In large gatherings in several U.S. cities, Cardinal Wojtyla spoke about the various human hungers: for food, for faith, for meaning in life, for work, for peace, for racial harmony, for vocations. A beautiful song written for that occasion, “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” mentioned those “hungers,” and was the theme sung at every meeting (check it out in your parish Missalettes).
Jesus will proclaim that His “food” is to do the will of His Father. He teaches us to do the same. There is one difference in the food analogy. When we eat our bagels and buns, the digestive process makes the bread become part of us. When we eat The Bread of Life, Jesus Himself, we become a part of Him. Now THAT is something to chew on!
Of course, we have to think about that when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. If we leave our pews to go down the aisle because everyone else is going (like dishes sliding off a broken shelf), well, I’m sure something good can come of that. But it won’t be a heart-to-heart meeting with Jesus. That’s what John was trying to tell his Eucharistic community. At the very least, becoming one with Jesus, the Bread of Life, should help us see other people, and our life, through the eyes of Jesus.
The Lord gives us bread from Heaven Take and eat!