Saturday, August 25, 2012

21st Sunday Yr B (Gospel: John 6:60-69) What about you, will you go away too?

A few years ago I spent two days in a parish in Los Angeles.  The parish priest was an Irish man and he was explaining how things work over there.  He said that for years there was a man in the parish who used to lead the folk group.  He played the guitar.  Then one day he decided to start his own church.  So he rented a building down the street and started his own church, just like that.  That’s how it works in LA.  I doubt if it would happen so easily here.

What if you could change whatever parts of the faith you wanted to?  You could have women priests, married priests, divorce.  You could change some of the more difficult teachings like having to love your enemies; seems a bit extreme after all.  And you could tailor it just to suit your own needs. You could believe what you wanted to believe.  What would you end up with? A religion of nice ideas, of wishful thinking.  It would mean nothing.  It might make you feel better, but it would be empty.  Why? because it would be man made, not God made.

The word of God and the teaching of God can be difficult, but at least they are the teachings of God.  It’s not just something we made up.  We are free to either take it or leave it, to accept it and struggle with it, or to walk away from it.

Look at what happened in this Gospel passage.  Jesus was just after teaching about the Eucharist.  He had said, ‘I am the bread of life’ and ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life in you’.  And the people said, ‘this is ridiculous, who could accept it’ and they walked away.  But Jesus’ response is even more interesting.  He didn’t go after them and say, ‘let me explain’.  He said to the disciples, ‘are you going to go away too’?  In other words he said, ‘this is the teaching, take it or leave it.’  And it says that many people stopped following him then.  They couldn’t accept what he said, so they left.  But he didn’t change anything he had said.  How could he, if it’s the truth?  And this applies to all of the teachings of Christ, handed down to us.  They don’t change.  They can not change.  But we are free to accept them or not.

Jesus says to us, ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments.’  Above all this means putting putting God above everything else in your life; above your wife or husband, above your children, above your work.  God must be at the center.  And God assures us, if we put him first, everything else will follow.

If it were impossible for us to follow God’s teachings God wouldn’t have given them to us.  So it must be possible to follow them.  Trying to do it on your own seems impossible and it probably is.  But God doesn’t ask us to do it on our own.  He asks us to continually turn to him and receive his help, which he gives us through prayer, through Holy Communion, Confession and all the sacraments.  God knows exactly what we’re able for and He gives us all the help we need, if we ask for it.

At the best of times it can be difficult to live our faith.  But the invitation is to keeping coming with an open heart to listen to what God might be saying to us?  Have we already decided we know what God has to say? Could God say something new to us that we haven’t heard before? It is an ongoing struggle for us, but we believe a very worthwhile one.

God also says to us, ‘what about you, will you go away too?’  And we can go away, or we can say, ‘Lord where else will we go, you have the message of eternal life and we believe, we know you are the holy one of God.’

Friday, August 17, 2012

20th Sunday Yr B (Gospel: John 6:51-58) The Eucharist is the source of our life

During the time our economy was doing better there were more jobs around and naturally everyone was happy about that.  Yet how is it that despite those better times economically people didn’t seem to be much happier?  There seemed to be much more pressure on people to ‘succeed’, people had less and less time for the ordinary things.  Everyone seemed to be mad busy trying to get money.  The rate of suicide increased and so did the rate of crime.  What was wrong?  We thought we finally had it all together.

We are experts at looking after the body, but most people are extremely ignorant when it comes to looking after the spirit, or soul and we are body and soul.  As a result, no amount of money or work, or the right house or car, will bring us happiness, because there is an emptiness inside us that material things cannot fill and will never fill.  This is the spiritual side of ourselves which can only be fulfilled by what is spiritual.  Sometimes it takes a death, or serious illness, to make us wake up to this.  We will only be fulfilled in God because God has created us this way.

In this Gospel Jesus is talking about just this.  He says, ‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.’  ‘Whoever eats me, will draw life from me.’  Jesus himself is telling us that this is where we will find fulfillment, in him whom we receive in the Eucharist, in Holy Communion.  This is why Jesus is constantly inviting us to spend time with him and to receive him often.  But we object, we don’t have time…  Let me tell you a short story.

When the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, had just begun, there were only a few of them working, but there was a huge amount of work to be done and they were really finding it hard to manage.  So they prayed to God and asked him to show them what they should do.  They felt that the Lord was telling them to spend an extra hour a day in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; that is an extra hour before the Blessed Sacrament and an hour less of work.  But they thought to themselves, ‘we already don’t have enough time to work, so how can we give an extra hour to prayer?’  However, since they really felt that this was what God was saying to them, they decided they would try to be obedient to it.  So they began to give an extra hour a day to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and an hour less to work.   The interesting thing is that after a short time many more people began to join the order and soon they had lots of extra people to help them with the work.  God will never be outdone in generosity.  If you give time to God He will make it up to you. 

Finally, it is important to remember that while Jesus is humble enough to give himself to us in Holy Communion, we should be careful about how we approach him.  He has come for sinners and we are sinners.  But if we receive him often we should also confess our sins often.  God has given us the gift of Holy Communion, but He has also given us the gift of confession, so that we can be free of sin and so that we can approach him as we should, with humility.  This is one place where we cannot demand our rights, because before God we have no rights.  Everything from God is a gift.  So we should confess to a priest, especially if there is something serious that we have done.  And we cannot say that we have no sins.  St. John says in one of his letters: ‘If anyone says they have not sinned they are calling God a liar’ (1 John 1.10). This is God’s word.  If we feel emptiness within us, it is probably because our spirits are starving.  Jesus is the one who will fulfill us.
I am the bread of life.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in them.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

19th Sunday Year B (Gospel: John 6:41-51) Get up and eat or the journey will be too long for you

Have you ever felt so sick and tired of everything that you found yourself saying, ‘I’ve had enough.  I’m sick of everything.  I wish I was dead’?  I think most people can relate to this every now and again.  I know I can.  I find it very consoling that the prophet Elijah also said this.  This is what he says in the first reading, ‘Lord I’ve had enough, I wish I was dead.’  This is the prophet Elijah talking, one of the most extraordinary prophets in the bible.  He raised people from the dead, cured people, multiplied food miraculously, made the waters of the Jordan separate, and here he is just like any one of us saying, ‘Lord I’ve had enough.  I wish I was dead.’  And then he goes to sleep as people often do when they are feeling down.  It’s a kind of escape.  But it is interesting what happens next.  The Lord doesn’t say, ‘oh poor Elijah, I’ll make everything better for you.’  Instead he says, ‘get up and eat or you won’t have enough strength for the journey.’  Take nourishment, you need nourishment.

In the Gospel Jesus is talking about food again.  He is saying that there is a food that we need.  I am that food.  I am the bread of life.  The food that I give is my flesh.  When he said this most of the people left him.  They thought he was crazy.  They said, ‘who can listen to this?  He is nuts!’  But he didn’t change what he said, or take anything back.  He let them walk away, not understanding.

What he had said was, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you can not have life within you.’  He was talking about the Eucharist, Holy Communion.  He was saying, ‘You need me.’  If you don’t have me you are empty, you are dead, you have nothing.’  My body and blood are the food that you need for the journey.  We need to feed ourselves properly, both physically, but also spiritually, or we will die spiritually.  And sadly many people do die spiritually, you can almost see it in their eyes.  There is a darkness, an emptiness.  I notice it especially in cities, where people are more inclined to lead crazy lives running after money as if it will bring them happiness, but they have nothing else, they are empty.

There is a terrible spiritual poverty in many people at the moment, especially in the so called ‘developed’ world.  People are spiritually empty, and they don’t know what’s wrong.  They are searching to find some kind of meaning, some kind of depth to their lives but they don’t know where to look.  Jesus is telling us where to look.  He is saying that he is the only one who will satisfy this emptiness in us.  We who already believe in Jesus are very fortunate or blessed.  You mightn’t think of yourself as blessed because you believe, but if you have any little bit of faith you are very fortunate.  And you do have faith, or you wouldn’t be here reading this.

Jesus has given us an immense treasure by giving us the Eucharist, because this is the gift of himself and we can receive him every day if we wish.  Through this extraordinary gift he nourishes us, gives us purpose, gives us direction.  It is the spiritual strength we need and the more open we are to him the more he can guide us and lead us deeper in faith.  The journey of faith is the greatest adventure if you are open to it.  The Eucharist is God’s gift to us.
 ‘The angel said to Elijah, “get up and eat or the journey will be too long for you.”’

Saturday, August 4, 2012

18th Sunday Year B (Gospel: John 6:24-35) Do not work for food that cannot last; but work for food that endures to eternal life.

Recently a priest friend of mine was telling me that he was just back from holidays where he had been mountain climbing with a German priest friend of his.  They were somewhere in the mountains on the Austrian-German border.  His friend had a map, but it was five years old and one of the paths they took turned out to be very dangerous.  It was basically no longer usable.  He said that for most of it there was a rope on one side for safety, although there was a sheer drop on the other side.  But then they came to a place about 5m long where there was no rope, so they just had to cling to the side of the cliff on this extremely narrow ledge until they got past it.  He told me that it was quite terrifying and a matter of slowly taking one step at a time, then finding proper hand grip, then another step.  By the time he got to the far side he was quite exhausted and traumatised, but what interested me was that his friend—who is an experienced mountaineer—then told him to sit down and that they should eat something.  When you have been through an experience like that, eating changes your metabolism and calms you down.  And he said that it did just that.  Within a short time he was fine again.

There is also an interesting story in the Old Testament where the prophet Elijah is on the run having just worked an extraordinary miracle, but now queen Jezebel is out to kill him.  So he escapes into the desert, but at one point he sits down feeling fed up and prays to God, ‘Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’, or in modern English, ‘I wish I was dead; I’ve had enough’.  Then he lies down and goes to sleep.  But then he is woken by an angel who tells him to get up and eat, so that he will have enough strength for the journey.  There he finds food beside him.  The right kind of nourishment is essential.

In this Gospel passage Jesus is just after working the miracle of feeding five thousand people with the five loaves and two fish and the people come after him to see more of this wonder-worker.  However, as is often the case, the miracle Jesus worked was pointing to something deeper and he says to them, ‘you are only looking for me because you got free food, but you didn’t see the “sign”.  What ‘sign’?  What was he talking about? And then he says, ‘don’t be worrying about temporary food, but look for the food that endures forever.’  The miracle of multiplying the loaves was a sign of something much deeper. Jesus then begins to teach them that there is another kind of food that we need for our whole life; not just material food that you eat, but food which is meaning/purpose/direction.  And then He tells them that He is this food that lasts forever, and the kind of food we need for the journey which is our whole life.  Jesus is the one who gives us strength and meaning to keep going.  He is the one who makes sense of what our whole life is about.  If you don’t have the right kind of meaning or purpose for being here, then it is very hard to keep going especially when things don’t make sense, as they so often don’t.

It is interesting too that in the second reading (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24) St. Paul says, ‘don’t live the kind of aimless life that Pagans live.’  That is exactly what can happen to us if we lose sight of our faith, or get too caught up in the world and worldly worries.  We forget what the real purpose of our life is about.  You see this happening all the time, especially when the economic boom was here.  Many people got completely carried away with money and forgot themselves.  I suppose now that things are harder it’s a lot easier for us to focus on what is really important.  That is much harder, but it is also helping us.

God is showing us that to have the right kind of strength for the journey, we need the right kind of food, and Jesus is this food.  ‘I am the bread of life’.  That is why Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist and speaks to us through his word, so that we have all the nourishment that we need for the journey.  If we know what our life is about, it is much easier to keep going even when we are struggling physically.  Where do we get direction from? In Jesus.  He is the one who makes sense of what we are about.

Now I know that there are also real worries such as how am I going to provide for my family when I’ve no work.  But what God is telling us is that if we focus on him first we will begin to discover that He will look after all of these needs as well.  Jesus must be at the centre, everything else second.
I am the bread of life. 
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry;
whoever believes in me will never thirst.