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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at one of the key passages within the Gospels about the Eucharist. This passage, commonly called the Bread of Life discourse, is a long series of acts and teachings by Our Lord proclaiming Himself as the Bread of Life, which we will discuss more in the next couple of weeks.

This week we begin this discourse with the Multiplication of Fish and Loaves. This miracle by Our Lord is foreshadowed in the first reading by the prophet Elisha giving 20 loaves to 100 people. These loaves were not large, like the typical sliced bread that we can buy at the store today. Each loaf would not be enough to fill one person, much less 5. Yet, 20 loaves fed 100 people with food left over. While this anticipates Our Lord's miracle with the loaves and fish, Our Lord does it on a much grander scale, as He was able to feed 5000 with 12 baskets of leftovers.

By His miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, Our Lord shows us an even greater sign. He is not showing us that He will continue to feed us physically, so that we no longer have to worry about providing physical nourishment for ourselves. Instead, He is showing us that He will feed us spiritually through the Eucharist. We are given spiritual food we need to grow closer to Our Lord in this life, and to prepare for our future life in Heaven with Him.

In the document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council calls the Mass “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” Our Faith flows from the Eucharist and leads us towards the Eucharist. When we attend Mass and receive the Eucharist on a regular basis, we should be drawn to Our Lord. If we are open to the graces that flow through the Eucharist, we should desire to learn more about Jesus and His teachings, which are passed down to us through the Church.

Just as our physical bodies require regular nourishment in order to grow and survive, so our spiritual life requires nourishment. Humans cannot go more than a few days without water, and won't last much longer without food. Likewise, our spiritual life needs to be nourished by the Eucharist on a regular basis or it will die. This is why it's so important to come to Mass every week, every Sunday.

You might have heard someone say that it's not important to go to Church as long as they find God in their own way. Yes, there are many ways in which we can find God outside of the Church, and we are encouraged to do so, but our spiritual life will be severely weakened if we do not receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ which is given to us at every Mass as food for our spiritual life. God can feed us through other ways, but the normal way we are spiritually fed is through the Eucharist.

As an analogy, a person could live off a diet of just meat; no bread, cheese, or vegetables. It wouldn't be the most balanced diet, and would affect their physical health in the long run, but one could survive off of a diet of just meat. In the same way, one could spiritually live off of just personal prayer to God, but his or her spiritual life would not be as strong as the spiritual life of those who both pray and receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the nourishment we need to have a full, healthy, and balanced spiritual life.

This nourishment also prepares us for the journey to the next life, as well as the struggles in this life. It is a long-standing tradition within the Church that one receives the Blessed Sacrament on their death bed as Viaticum, food for the journey. The Eucharist gives us the spiritual strength to face death and the judgment that follows. It also prepares us to face with joy the difficulties and struggles that come at us daily as part of existence on Earth.

Today, may we be open to the graces which flood over us every time the Eucharist is celebrated, and may those graces prepare us for our spiritual journey.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A common theme within the Scriptures that we've spoken about before is Our Lord's call to all Christians to proclaim the Good News of salvation that Jesus revealed. We see it repeatedly throughout the Gospels, including today's reading from the Gospel of Mark. A question that we don't often think about is “why?” Why would we want to be open about our faith and preach it to others? Why allow our faith to influence our daily lives? Why can't we live our lives the way we want, so long as we come to Church once a week?

I think many of us feel like the prophet Amos. He just wanted to live a simple life as a shepherd, and had no desire to to be a prophet. He just wanted to be a simple man doing a simple job. God had other plans for his life, and Amos followed God's plans instead of his own. This doesn't mean that Amos lived the easy life. On the contrary, things didn't fall into his lap, and people didn't run to follow him. In fact, we see in today's first reading that he was even attacked for his prophecy by a priest, by one who should know better.

When we follow God's will, life may become more difficult, and we may be attacked for what we say and do. In response, many will say, “No thanks!”, and understandably so. No one wants to seek the difficult path in life. So, again, why would we want to proclaim our faith to the world?

We proclaim our faith, because it is what we were baptized to do. When we were baptized, the priest poured Sacred Chrism on our heads, declaring that Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we also share in those roles within the world. Just as Christ was anointed to be a prophet, we also are anointed to be prophets.

As Christians, we do not prophesy the same ways the Old Testament prophets did. They would often go throughout the countryside proclaiming what God revealed to them, confronting those who would ignore God's call to conversion. A familiar example is Jonah, who walked through Nineveh declaring, “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be destroyed.” We see that as well with Amos in today's reading, as he got into a confrontation with the priest in Bethel over the prophecy that Amos was proclaiming.

Our role as prophets is to allow our words and actions to proclaim the Gospel. If we live our lives allowing the commandments of Our Lord to shine through us, we will be prophesying to a world that has largely turned away from those commandments. If we are proud of being disciples of Jesus, we will be quick to defend His Church against those who attack Her and misrepresent Her teachings. As prophets, we must always strive for our words and actions to match what Our Lord commands of us, and allow our example to speak for us.

Again, the question arises, “Why would I want to be a prophet for Christ? It sounds like a lot of trouble for little reward.” From an earthly sense, yes that's true. There is very little earthly reward for being a Christian prophet. You won't become rich, you probably won't become famous, and you definitely won't be the most popular person in the world.

We want to be a prophet of Christ for heavenly rewards and not for earthly ones. St. Paul shows us the great rewards we have already received by becoming members of the Body of Christ. We have been adopted as God's sons and daughters, and are able to share in the inheritance of eternal life. In a matter of speaking, our lives have been ransomed from the power of death by the shedding of Our Lord's blood on the Cross. We no longer have to fear death, but can rejoice in the hope of eternal life. Our sins no longer have to weigh us down, but we can receive forgiveness and new hope. We've even received the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul tells us “is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption.”

With all these great rewards, why would we not want to proclaim the Good News of salvation?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When you go to a library or bookstore, there's often a whole section dedicated to self-help books. These books claim to be guides to improving yourself and helping you become more self-sufficient, improving your strengths while reducing or eliminating your weaknesses. If you follow these books, the authors assure you, you'll be more successful in business, relationships, and any activity you put your mind towards doing. It's all about you improving yourself so that you'll be successful in whatever you want to do.

While improving yourself is not a bad thing, as we should always be striving to overcome our faults and failings, today's readings provide an alternative message to these self-help books. Instead of a message of personal strength, we see examples of personal weakness allowing God's strength to shine through. Likewise, in the Gospel we see what happens when we put our focus on ourselves and what we know or believe.

Starting with the Gospel, Jesus returns to His home town of Nazareth and is confronted by townspeople about His teaching and healing. Of course, they've known Him most of His earthly life, and are quick to bring up who He is and what family He's from. This is not an uncommon event, especially in small towns. Someone returns home after an extended absence, and everyone starts talking about what this person did in his or her life. This person may have done and seen many great things, but everyone remembers times in that person's life when he made mistakes or bad decisions. He may be well-known and respected throughout the world, but not always in his home town.

The same thing happened to Jesus. The people of Nazareth thought they knew who Jesus was. After all, some of His family still lived there in town, and they knew that His father, Joseph, was a carpenter. How dare He preach to them, since they thought that He was no better than the rest of them.

Of course, the people of Nazareth didn't completely know Jesus as well as they thought, but they weren't open to hearing what He had to say. They had closed off their minds to anything other than their own opinions, and were unwilling to admit that they didn't know. Instead, as the Gospel tells us, the people “took offense at him.” Because they were so sure they knew who Jesus was that they were upset that He dared try to teach them. He was unable to work many miracles there because the people of Nazareth were unwilling to put any faith in Him.

Of course, being strong-willed was not a new thing at Jesus time. In the first reading, we see the Prophet Ezekiel being sent by God to lead the people of Israel back to Him. Israel had once again begun to ignore God's promptings and were instead following its own path. Ezekiel's job was to call Israel back and open their hearts to God so that He could once again bless the nation of Israel.

In this reading, we are given two contrasting ways of responding to God's call in our lives. First, we see Ezekiel's openness to God, and see how Ezekiel's openness allowed God to work through him to reach Israel. On the other hand, we see the stubbornness of Israel, calling them “obstinate of heart”, which prevents God from working through them.

While Ezekiel is sent to the nation of Israel, being obstinate of heart is not only on a community or national level. Each of us can be hard-hearted towards God. In fact, this reading presents us with a choice. Do we come before the Lord weak and open to Him, or do we rely on our own strength and close ourselves off to the Lord?

St. Paul encourages us to come before the Lord in weakness, relying on God's grace and not on our own strength. As St. Paul tells us, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” God's power can only work in and through us when we realize that we are weak and powerless before him. If we try to remain self-sufficient and rely on our own power, we close ourselves off from the graces that God wants to bestow on us.

We all want to be self-sufficient and rely on our own strength, but God's graces can only work within those who are weak enough to accept them. May we come before Him weak and open to His will.