Fr. Alex’s Corner, July 22, 2018
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS...
AND HE SHALL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER!”
(from the Halleluia Chorus
In Handel’s “MESSIAH.”)
No, today’s Sunday Mass Readings don’t include Handel’s “Messiah.” This inspired symphony glorifies Jesus Christ in power and glory.
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6: 30-34) presents a different Jesus. It’s a tender story. The apostles return from their mission. Jesus knows they want to tell Him all about it, but they look so tired. He calls them “to a deserted place,” where they can rest and chat. I like that Jesus. I know all about His power and glory. But here He is so human! Along with the exhausted disciples, here comes a crowd. He likened them to sheep without a shepherd.
The sheep-and-shepherd theme, big in Scripture, has many meanings. Preachers today may explain how sheep-and-shepherd applies to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. I’ve done it often. But today I’d like to focus on Jesus, The Compassionate Man. How He FEELS about people. No power and glory here!
When the wine ran out at a Cana wedding Jesus felt sorry for the bride and groom and He delivered the best wine of the day. Thousands listening to Him were hungry. Loaves and fishes for all! A man tells Him about his dying child. Jesus goes and makes her well. A man is paralyzed. Jesus tells him to get up and walk, and he does! A leper approaches. A LEPER! Jesus HUGS the leper and heals him.
A lady has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. All she wants is to touch His cloak and be healed. She does and she is. A lady caught in the act is brought to Him for humiliation and condemnation. He does neither. He just tells her to go home and be good. Matthew is pre-judged by the reputation of crooked tax collectors, but he wants to see Jesus. They have dinner, and Matt becomes a disciple.
Remember the man on the Cross who cries out to Jesus as both are dying? Jesus takes a “time-out” from suffering to save one more soul. In the Garden of Olives, Peter slices off a soldier’s ear. Jesus tells Peter to put away the sword, because “those who live by violence will die by violence.” And He heals the ear of the man arresting Him.
Jesus may have power and glory, but He is also a kind and compassionate man. When He forgives Peter for his weak moments, He tells Peter to “feed my sheep.” This Good Shepherd cares so much about His flock that He establishes a Church to care for them. Yes, for ALL THEIR NEEDS!
When Jesus spoke about final judgment (in Matt Ch 26) the criteria were quite clear. “What you did for any of these, you did for me.” These will inherit the Kingdom. And to others, “’what you did NOT do for these, you did NOT do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment.” Jesus said that. He did!
Each of us needs help at one time or another. How blessed we are when someone lends a hand. We are a good and generous people. God loves that. But these days some of us are resentful of those in need. We are beginning to see them as our enemies. Like the impetuous Peter, we would prefer to cut off their ear (or shoot them). That is not the way of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
When He will announce that final judgment, let no one think they can appeal by bringing up welfare queens/kings. He knows about them and He has some surprises for them, too.
So this Good Shepherd and sheep story is not about “Mary had a little lamb” or “Little Bo Peep who lost her sheep.” It’s about a LOVING God who notices when His friends are tired and He wants to send help. He feeds, consoles, heals and He tells us that we have to love one another as He has loved us. True, we can’t help EVERONE, but we better be on record as helping SOMEONE. If not, you had better be goat-friendly. The SHEEP will be elsewhere.
What a God we have in Jesus! PEACE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, July 29, 2018
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“The hand of the Lord feeds us;
He answers all our needs.”
This Sunday’s Gospel comes from St. John. We’ve been reading from Mark for much of this year, but an important teaching is about to be proclaimed, and that story is best told by John. We will be hearing from John for the next four weeks.
It’s the story of Jesus feeding a multitude (John says 5000) in the desert. “Oh, that again!”
WHOA! This is the event that changed history. We may have heard it so many times that we “miss the magic.” Can we PRETEND here that we have never heard this story before? Let’s try that.
Remember three Sundays ago when the people of Jesus’ home town questioned His healing power? They knew Him as a neighbor, one of the “boys in the ‘hood,” and no more. “So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there … (due to) their lack of faith” (Mark 6: 5-6). That’s the context.
With that insight, let’s tackle this story. Historians say that around the time Jesus was born the people of Israel were awaiting some SIGN from God. Their nation was overcome by foreigners, this time the Romans. The Roman Emperor was divine and that went against everything the Jews believed. There was no legitimate prophet for a long time. John the Baptist got people pretty excited, but he insisted that he was not the promised Messiah.
The people heard stories that Jesus had healed some sick people, but those were individuals, the healings done in private. So, maybe there was something to this, maybe not.
Then there was that wedding in Cana. Many people were there, and they tasted the wine that Jesus had somehow provided. It was good wine and lots of it. That story got some traction.
Then came feeding a crowd in the desert. That was a spectacle. They all ate those loaves and fish, and saw the leftovers. WHO does things like that?
Exactly! WHO feeds multitudes in the desert? Well! Jewish folks know the answer to that question. Their sacred tradition told how Yahweh-God sent MANNA (“like the dewfall”) to the people liberated from slavery in Egypt (Exodus, Ch 16). “You have given them bread from heaven,” they prayed and believed. So, note well: early in Old Testament tradition, the people saw God in their daily bread. He was not present IN the bread, but THROUGH the daily bread, giving nourishment and strength on their journey to the Promised Land.
That was in the religious memory of every Jewish person present when Jesus fed the five thousand. We need to know that as we read this story.
So, when Jesus fed the five thousand, that story got around. They may not have fully understood, and, people being people, their accounts may have differed. But with so many people there, no one could deny what had taken place. An event similar to God’s feeding people bread in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. That was BIG!
Scripture scholars have carefully studied whether this really happened or was it a pious story. Each of the four evangelists tells the story, and the accounts were written at a time when many witnesses were still alive. No one denied it. It was a memorable event and they all spoke of it. Yes, it was BIG.
So, the people wanted a SIGN and they got one. Once again, God feeds multitudes in the desert. In the next four weeks, we will hear Jesus explain what this means. It was NOT a Tailgate Party or a template for parish Pancake Breakfasts!
Something new and spectacular was happening. So be sure to listen to Jesus in the weeks ahead. Jesus will tell us what THE BREAD OF LIFE is all about.
In the BREAD FROM HEAVEN, the hand of the Lord feeds us; He answers ALL OUR NEEDS!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, July 15, 2018
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Lord, let us SEE your kindness….(Ps 85)
“May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Enlighten THE EYES of our hearts.” (Eph 1:17)
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a proponent of sanctity for the laity. Though he lived four centuries ago, there is much in his writings for us today. In his “Introduction to the Devout Life,” he states that from the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb, God knew us by name and had a unique plan for each of us. That is basic to our belief in the sacredness of every human life.
St. Paul affirms that in today’s Second Reading (Eph 1:3-14), when he says that “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in Him,… TO BE HOLY AND WITHOUT BLEMISH.” The Church may canonize some people as saints, but God calls each of us to be saints.
By the way, Mark Twain may have been on to all that when he wrote: “the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why.”
St. Francis de Sales explains that God has a plan for each of us, and our task is to figure out exactly what that plan is. He says that we need the eyes of faith to see as God sees, but our physical eyes are distracted by so many other things that we can easily “lose sight” of God’s vision and plan.
I thought of that as I read the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia verse for today’s Mass (quoted above). It’s all about vision. I get it, as my eye doctor told me that it will be another year before the cataracts in my eyes will be “ripe” for surgical removal. In the meantime, it feels like I’m looking through a dirty window. It’s not nice. It’s distracting!
Remember last Sunday when Mark’s Gospel told us that Jesus could not work miracles in His home town because His neighbors couldn’t “see” what was different between Jesus and the other guys in the ‘hood. In other places people came to Him “with faith,” and He worked great miracles. Not in His own town! The people did not “see” Him as anyone special. He looked like everyone else. Their vision of Him was not God’s vision of Jesus. They didn’t have faith, and one good description of faith is “God’s vision”: seeing things as God sees them.
Some time I ago I told a story of a young woman who told me how she disliked the image of Jesus crucified on our rectory wall. She said, “I see a man, almost naked, bruises all over his body, blood coming from his head, nailed to a cross. He has a wound in his heart, which means he is dead. And you have him hanging there like some figurine!”
After she left the rectory, I sat in the same chair she sat in, and looked at that image. Everything she said about the image was correct. But I could not see a “figurine.” Why not? Because by God’s gift, I have the gift of faith. I “see” something very different there. That young woman had no religious affiliation and so she saw what she saw. No more.
The Gospel Readings for these summer Sundays tell how Jesus sent His disciples into the world to continue His mission of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The other Mass Readings tell speak how the Prophets of old were sent for the same thing. They had to be people of faith. It was neither their brains nor their brawn, or “worldly” wisdom that would change the world. First, they had to believe, that is, see things as God saw them, and then share that vision with others. At this time of year, newly ordained priests are sent into their ministry. That may explain why these Readings appear now. But the same is true for each of us. God NEEDS US (imagine that!) to share with others what He first shares with us.
Do you think that Jesus gift of PEACE is needed in the world today? Well, how’s it gonna get there?
May Jesus share His faith, His vision with you so that you can share it with others.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, July 8 (delayed), 2018
Time for a Franciscan Family Update
As I said weeks ago, June was travel-time. I was a delegate to our Provincial Chapter in Buffalo, NY for two sessions, the first in April and the second in June. This is a once-in-four-years meeting of Friars to seat our Minister Provincial, elect his council of advisors, look over what we have been doing (and what we haven’t), and plan our next four years. It’s always good for the friars to get together. For me, living so far away from our east-coast Province, it was catch-up time. I also visited our sick and “elderly” friars, my contemporaries. We are a family and whatever happens when YOUR family gathers happens when OURS gathers. Gladly, no one leaves in an ambulance or under arrest!
The problem we all face today is declining numbers. The buzz-word is “diminishment.” The Church is growing is some places, and needs more help, while church attendance and activity declines elsewhere. That’s our big challenge, along with an aging clergy. I’m sure you know all that.
On the positive side, we just ordained four new priests and this is the time of year when our new candidates begin their “formation” and studies.
As I write this, our five “old” novices are ending their year of Novitiate and will be taking their temporary vows, while our five new novices tried on their new Franciscan Habits this afternoon. We have to watch so they don’t hang themselves with their Franciscan cords. It’s risky business.
While in Buffalo, I was able to catch up with my family. How quickly the kids are growing. How I wish Great-Grandma was still around to see them. (And for them to see her!)
I also took a drive to visit my friends (and parish “family”) in Holyoke, MA. I cherish that time to catch up with them, but this time, was I surprised! On “the way to dinner” we stopped at the parish hall – filled with God’s best people – wishing me (an early!!!!!!) 80th Birthday Surprise. When we walked into the room I thought we disturbed a meeting of some sort, and I was embarrassed. I began to recognize one, then two, then more of the people, and only when I was actually pushed into the room did I see the “80” balloons and it began to click.
As I told them, for the first time in my “young” life, I was actually speechless! How these folks managed to get all these people together on a Wednesday afternoon, for someone who’s been away from there for four years, is unbelievable. It was a God-blessed opportunity to catch up with people that I’ve known and loved for a long time. God is good!
Then it was back to Buffalo for my return to California. As you get older, travelling is not easy. Particularly as these huge airports require a lot of walking. But I did it, got back to California AND A BIG HEAT WAVE.
So, back to the routine of daily life in our Novitiate friary. The temp has cooled down, and the Pacific Ocean is once again our “air conditioner.” We expect many guests for the rituals ending one novitiate year and beginning another. God is good!
Please say a fervent prayer for our young friars who are embarking on their intimate journey with the Lord. St. Francis always prayed, “Lord, what do YOU want ME to do.” That is their prayer, too. It’s most important that they listen carefully when the Lord responds. That is the novitiate experience. God bless you all…..
Dear Friends: during my three weeks away I received messages from Facebook alerting me that some of my ”Friends” reported things posted in my name which, they were sure, did not come from me. Whatever it was, it did not measure up to Facebook standards and they deleted it. The only thing I post on Facebook is my weekly Blog and my last posting was on June 15. I may look through the photos and messages, but I do not respond on Facebook. So, if there was anything offensive, I am deeply sorry. I did not post it. And to the “Friends” who noticed and reported it, I can only say “Much obliged!”