Mystery of the Holy Mass

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B); July 29, 2018

2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps 145; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

            The sixth chapter of John’s gospel, from which we’ll be reading for the next several weeks, is an on-going meditation on the meaning of the Mass and the Eucharist.            We re-read John’s sixth chapter every third summer in the liturgical year Why this chapter? Why does the Church focus so carefully on it? John’s gospel does not have a narrative of Jesus consecrating the Bread or sharing the cup, which we find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But what this chapter does have is a very defined Eucharistic theology albeit in symbolic form. I’d like to invite us during these hot summer days, to spend time reflecting on this chapter of John. Maybe read it with your family; maybe read it in private prayer; maybe do a lectio divina in which you read it for understanding and applying it to your lives.

Chapter Six begins in the context of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes:            First, we hear this: “After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (of Tiberius). (And) a large crowd followed him. …”

(Jn 6:1). This is a motif one sees throughout the gospels: people are attracted to Jesus! The crowds were simply captivated by him; they wanted to be close to him. We saw it last week in Jesus as the Good Shepherd calling Israel back. We hear it in Mark’s gospel in which people came at him from all sides. There’s something magnetic about Jesus.   The line from the liturgy reflects this attraction: “Age to age you gather a people to yourself so that from East to West a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.” This liturgical passage captures the magnetic attractiveness of Jesus because we are here today! Why else would we be here if not to be with Jesus and give glory to the triune God

Then we hear, “Jesus went up on the mountain….” (v. 3a). This is an important symbol because ‘mountain’ is the place of encounter with God: Abraham binds Isaac on the top of Mount Mariah, Moses receives the Law on Mount Sinai, Elijah faces down the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, Jesus gives his New Law on a mountain and is transfigured on Mount Tabor. Why? The ‘mountain’ symbolizes the aspiration of the human spirit upward and the condensation of the divine Spirit downward. It signifies a meeting of divinity and humanity; a meeting of divine and human freedom in the great God-drama.

Every Mass is a mountain encounter because every Mass is a sacred meeting place of divinity and humanity. When we gather for Mass, we’re gathering at the top of Mount Tabor, of Mount Sinai, the top of the Mount where Jesus gave us the Beatitudes. We become a place of a loving encounter with God.

Then we hear that “he sat down with his disciples” (v. 3b). In the ancient world, sitting down was the posture of the teacher when he teaches with his students literally at his feet.   This is the Liturgy of the Word; it is Christ speaking to us through the Lector. It is the Word that has that has invited you to intimacy, that has attracted you, and now you sit down at his feet while he teaches you, especially the words of the Gospel. Then the Word is extended through the homily.

Then we hear, “The Jewish feast of Passover was near” (v. 4). During Passover, the Hebrews remembered the Exodus from Egypt, which was a movement from oppression to liberation. They signaled their solidarity as a people with the sharing of the sacred meal, and they ate the lamb that had been sacrificed to Yahweh.

What’s the Mass but the re-presentation of the Cross by which Christ sets us free from sin? The Mass is a recapitulation of Exodus—it is a liberation from the slavery of sin and death.

What is the Mass but the sacred meal which defines Christ’s people? That’s why Catholics are essentially a Eucharistic people.

Then we hear that “Jesus raised His eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him” (v. 5a) and that they were hungry. They symbolize Israel, which we reflected upon last week; but, even more broadly, they symbolize the entire human race across space and time. The whole human race which is hungry not just for physical food but, above all, hungry for life–hungry for purpose, for meaning, for joy. Brothers and sisters, put yourself into that crowd; that’s the idea: we’re all in that crowd coming to Jesus and hungering for purpose, life, meaning, and joy.

Then Jesus puts the disciples to a test. How can they feed all of these people? Philip, one of the Twelve, calculates that if they pooled their resources they might be able to feed 200 people, which would not be enough to feed 5,000.   But, the disciples are in the market-place calculus, but Jesus substitutes the buying with another logic: that of giving. Andrew comes forward with the idea of a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but not enough to feed the multitude. Jesus, expecting this, order the disciples to make the crowd sit down, then he takes those loaves and fishes, gives thanks to the Father and distributes them, which prefigures the Last Supper and gives the bread its significance.

The bread is Jesus Himself. By receiving Him in Communion, we receive the divine Life within us and we enter into the dynamic of Trinitarian love. By eating Jesus’ Body and drinking His Blood, we become one with our heavenly Father and in fellowship among ourselves. By receiving Communion, we meet Jesus fully Risen. Taking part in the Eucharist means we are entering into the logic of Jesus, which is the giving and receiving of Life. And, as poor as we are, we all have something to give: we can give ourselves! So, to “receive Communion” means to draw from Christ the grace that enables us to share with others all that are and all that we have, which is exactly what God is doing for us.

And, then we have the final tidbit, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted” (v. 12b). Isn’t this exactly what we do at the Eucharist? Once we distribute the Body of Christ, we don’t let the fragments go to waste, but we gather them up, which was the practice of the early Church. We gather them up to take to the sick, the homebound, we gather them for the Tabernacle.

Last detail: “So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets…” (v. 13b). What is that but the twelve tribes of Israel? Jesus came to gather them and through them to gather the world. The Eucharist is the food and drink of the New Kingdom.

The crowd on the hillside were now magnetically attracted to Jesus; they were taught by Jesus, they were fed by Jesus; and they become the new nation. Well, that’s what happens at every Mass. We become the new gathered, fed, and satisfied People of God.

Once again I encourage you to walk through this Sixth Chapter of John over the next several weeks and dip deeply into this meaningful passage and this beautiful Gospel.

 

 

 

 

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Two by Two

              18-       “Two by Two”

15th Sunday in O.T. (B); July 15, 2018

ay in O.T. (B); July 15, 2018

Am 7:12-15   Ps 85   Eph 1:3-15   Mk 6:71-3

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

In Mark’s gospel, we read that Jesus sent out the Twelve “two by two,” which is relevant to us because   we are all in some way successors to the Apostles as we proclaim in the creed that we believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Here Jesus is giving them and us our “marching orders. He’s going to explain what he wants his disciples to do; so, we should listen attentively.

Listen to what he says: “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…” (Mk 6:7a). First of all, the beautiful symbol of the Twelve hearkens back to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which is meant to be a light to the world.   What’s the Church?—the New Israel. What was Israel’s purpose?—it was by its own unity, praise, and love to become a magnet to the world. Israel was meant to be the gathering place for the whole world to encounter the one true God. That’s the essential marching order given to the Church to this day. That’s the significance of Bernini’s columns emanating from St. Peter’s Basilica: the Church opens its arms to the world so that people may come into the presence of Christ Jesus. The Church is the new Twelve, the New Israel, which has the same purpose: by the very compelling power of our love and praise, people will be drawn to the true God. So, that’s our identity.

He sent them out “two by two.” Christianity is inescapably a communitarian religion. We’re implicated in each other in a communio, in a connection. Why? God himself is a communion of three Persons and we are made in the image of that communitarian-God. The Church is not a collectivity of individuals; it’s a mystical Body; it’s an organism. Therefore, its so important that the members go out “two by two” and not as individuals. Ours is not a private, individualized religion; it’s not a private, interior spirituality. It’s always about communion because God is communio. And, the purpose of the Church is to draw the whole world into this divine family. That’s why it’s so important that they and we go out “two by two.”

            Next, it says that “he gave them authority over unclean spirits

(v. 7b). Christianity is a fighting religion; we are involved in spiritual combat with the forces of darkness and evil.

Look at the gospels and what you see is a struggle, a fight. Jesus is a warrior. Is he battling personal sin? Yes! Is he fighting institutional sin? Yes! Is he up against collective dysfunction? Yes! He knows all about these.

But, ultimately he is doing battle, as Paul says, with powers and principalities. Are their dark spiritual powers that stand behind the dysfunction of the world personally and collectively? Yes!—that’s the answer the Bible gives up and down the centuries. The Church is a fighting church because whenever we see cruelty, injustice, and corruption, we fight it using the weapons of Gospel values. We sense behind those dysfunctions is a spiritual disorder and we are sent out to battle those dark forces.   And, in the name of Jesus, the Church breaks the power of these evil spirits because “He gave them authority over unclean spirits.”

Then he instructed them to take nothing for the journey—no food, no sack, no money in their belts” (v. 8). Now, I submit to you, brothers and sisters, that 2000 years later this is still breathtaking stuff. Can you imagine going out on any journey, say, on a vacation, without food, a wallet with credit cards, or a suitcase?   I can’t imagine going to Sacramento International Airport with nothing but my boarding pass! To do that, you’d have to be in a radical stance of God’s providence. See, I think Jesus is bringing his disciples into a kind of initiation ritual: tough, hard—yes, that the whole point to get them off their hyper-reliance upon themselves and get into a reliance upon God’s providence.

But, Jesus does tell them to bring a walking stick and sandals, which are used for movement. Buddhism has been called the “sitting religion” because Siddhartha sat beneath the bodhi tree and came to enlightenment. Christianity, in contrast, is a religion on the move because it’s a religion of mission. Nobody is ever given an experience of God without at the same time being sent. Israel collectively has a mission; individual Israelites addressed by God have a mission, whether that be Abraham, Moses, David, or Isaiah. And, so all of us today are, what Pope Francis calls missionary disciples. We’ve got a mission; we’ve been sent and its time to move!

Now, listen when Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there” (v. 10). While that sounds commonplace enough, think about it for a moment. What Jesus may be saying is that don’t fuss about finding a better place to stay. Don’t worry if the place you’re staying is not up to your standards or that there is a better place around the corner.   Who cares? Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave.   Be open to whatever life brings you and learn from it.

Then we hear “whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave then and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” (v. 11). When you come to a place, some will listen but others don’t; maybe they’ll be hostile to you and they won’t listen to the Word. Don’t get upset; your ministry is not about you. Don’t be aggressive or seek psychological retribution. Don’t get involved with an argument—just move on. Don’t cling to your ministerial failures, which can lead to self-loathing, self-doubt, depression, and burn-out. You’ve got to move on; you can’t be carrying around rejection around with you because, if you do, you won’t be able to effectively proclaim the Good News. Instead, you’ll end up communicating hour own hurts, fears, and disappointments. You’ll end up communicating the Bad News instead of the Good News.

Then it says that Jesus went off and preached repentance, metanoia: go beyond the mind you have; change your consciousness and attitude. That was Jesus’ original preaching. That’s still the task of the Church is to reiterate that great inaugural speech of Jesus. Change your old way of thinking. Your life is not about you with your projects, agendas, and plans, but its about God’s purposes. It’s about doing God’s will. 2000 years later, our job is still to preach “repentance.”

Finally, it says triumphantly that the Twelve drove out many demons (v. 13). That’s still our job, brothers and sisters, the descendants of that original band of Twelve who have gone out trusting in God’s providence not relying on our own skills. We go out preaching repentance, preaching Jesus Christ, and we go out still with his authority which is capable of addressing all the darkness around us at all levels. Our job is still to drive out the demons, still to change minds, still to proclaim the Good News.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Suffer

18-ed “A Thorn in the Flesh”:

Why Do We Suffer?

14th Sunday in O.T. (B); JULY 8, 2018

EZ 2:2-5   PS 123   2 Cor 12:7-10   Mk 6:1-6a

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

         Why do we suffer? I’d like to reflect on this question focusing on the second reading from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Towards the end of this Letter, Paul had been talking about extraordinary revelations that he’d received. But, he does not want to draw attention to those mystical experiences, but rather wants to reflect upon our weakness.

            Listen now to Paul: “…that I should not become too elated over the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated” (2 Cor 12:7).

“A thorn in the flesh”—what’s that about?  Some have said that it was a physical ailment, such as epilepsy or bad eye sight or a speech impediment

While we don’t know what the “thorn” was, he clearly was not talking about some little passing problem such as a cold. He’s talking about some steady, difficult, painful experience whether it be physical, psychological, or spiritual. It’s a chronic condition that persists and won’t go away.

But, he says that it was given to him so that he doesn’t become too elated. Then we hear this: “Three times I begged the Lord, that it might leave me” (v. 8). Paul repeatedly asked, “Lord, please take this away from me.” Haven’t we all asked God to do that for us? We say, “Lord, this thing is driving me crazy; please relieve me of this burden!”

Every single person has a thorn in their flesh: I’ve got one and you’ve got one. We’ve got not some trivial passing irritant, but something physical, psychological, or spiritual problem that just gnaws as us.  So, like Paul I bet that you’ve asked God over and over again to take that thorn away from you. Everyone is in the same boat.

So, listen to the answer he gets from the Lord: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made possible in weakness” (v. 9a). ‘GRACE’—one of Paul’s favorite terms is unmerited love. The unmerited love is sufficient for you. As the Psalmist says, “Your love is more precious to me than my physical life.” I think what Paul and the Psalmist mean is that if you are connected to God, the deepest source of life and being, then anything in principle can be endured, can be dealt with, can be overcome. Why? Noting trumps God’s love for you: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

            Then Paul adds that little addition that’s so typical of the paradoxical nature of Christianity: “…for power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9b).

What does Paul mean? Can you imagine going outside into the political, economic, or social arena and say, “Hey, you got it all wrong! Power is made perfect in weakness!” If there’s one attribute that’s not highly regarded in our society, it is ‘weakness’ because it is the weak who get preyed upon. But, we’re here in church worshiping a crucified God. So, Paul says, “I preach one thing: Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 1:23).

Somehow the weakness of the Cross is the revelation of God. Power is made perfect in weakness. What sense can we make of this? How can we unpack it?

I’d like to share with you three perspectives which show why weakness, suffering, and failure can bring forth power.

First, our suffering can force us like nothing else to rely upon God. We know fellow sinners that the basic problem we face is egotism,

In which I believe I can make myself happy by obtaining the goods of the world. So, I rest in my Ego and God, therefore, becomes an after thought, Who’s put in the background. But, when I suffer, when I fail, when I come up against this brick wall, spiritual panic sets in because my ego-drama just doesn’t work. I can continue down the same old path which leads to nowhere or I can chose to rely upon God, not upon my own resources.   Suffering challenges me to de-center myself away from my ego and onto God. Just look at it: nothing—no success, achievement, or pleasure can do this than like suffering. “Power is made perfect in weakness.”

            With Christ crucified in mind, suffering, the conscious bearing of suffering, can effect the taking away of sin. Now listen to Paul as he goes on to say that “Therefore I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecution, and constraints, for the sake of Christ” (v. 10a). Here, he’s not talking about physical suffering, but he’s talking suffering that comes to him from the outside. I think you can relate to that. Like Paul, you know what its like to be insulted, to be rejected—it happened all the time as he was preaching his way around the eastern Mediterranean. They constrained him with chains. And, you know where Paul lived the final months of his life? IN PRISON! Paul empathizes with your condition because he was there as well!

But, with Christ crucified in mind, what did our Lord do on the Cross? He didn’t fight evil on its own terms: he didn’t answer insult with insult; he didn’t answer persecution with persecution. Rather he took upon himself the sin of the world and thereby took it away. He put a wrench in the works that usually governs human affairs. Violence is met with violence; injustice is met with injustice. That’s the way of the world. But, notice what Jesus did: by bearing insult, persecution, and constraint, Jesus took away the sin of the world. So, we who are his followers, we who are conformed to his Body, the Church, we can unleash power precisely through our suffering. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to follow Jesus Strange Way here in our time and place?

The last way that power is made perfect in weakness is most mysterious.   I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but is something to do that we are members of a living organism, the mystical Body of Christ, the Church. We are not separate islands, but are members of the Risen and Glorified Christ. There is a coherence in our being because we dwell together in this organism—just as branches on a vine, we exist in each other; we are connected to one another. We share the same divine, grace-filled life as long as we are grafted onto Jesus.

So, apply this notion to suffering. Perhaps the suffering I am enduring and bearing is actually taking away the suffering of someone else in the mystical Body?   Or, that someone in the mystical Body is accepting in prayer her suffering so that I don’t have to suffer. What that means is that our suffering is meaningful because it’s redemptive. You may have heard that old expression, “Offer it up!” Why? Because our suffering can be used for God’s greater purposes.

But, HOW does this happen?   I’m not really sure. But, I accept what Paul says: namely, if we bear each others burdens “for the sake of Christ” (v. 9c) that works for the Good for those who have faith. Nothing is lost; what we endure is a way of alleviating the suffering of someone else.

Paul concludes this section by saying, “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 9d). It’s my suffering, the thorn in my flesh, that allows the strength and power of God to surge into me and indeed through me into the world.

Brothers and sisters,  spend some time today with this 12th chapter from 2 Corinthians in this magnificent lyrical passage. The great St. Paul does not boast of his extraordinary revelations, but boasts and rejoices in his weakness because power is made perfect precisely in weakness. Amen.