21st Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Joshua 24:1-2,15-17,18  +  Ephesians 5:21-32  +  John 6:60-69
August 26, 2012

“Simon Peter answered Him,
‘Master, to whom shall we go?’”  [John 6:68]

               After a great deal of murmuring and quarrelling, “many of Jesus’ disciples” finally admit, “‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”  Remember which saying they’re reacting to.  Jesus had proclaimed, “‘the Bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.’”  This saying is the hinge of all that Jesus says in John Chapter Six.  Before Jesus says this, He’s preaching about being the Bread of Life.  After He says this, He preaches about the need to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood.  These are the two main themes of Jesus’ preaching in this chapter:  that He is the Bread of Life, and that one must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood in order to have eternal life.  This hinge on which both are joined together is Jesus foreshadowing the Gift of Himself, which He will give to His bride during Holy Week.
               Jesus is foreshadowing the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist when He proclaims, “‘the Bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.’”  But this is exactly what “many of Jesus’ disciples” find hard to accept.  It’s important here to notice that this isn’t just the generic “crowd” that finds Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist hard to accept.  It’s not just “the Jews”, who earlier in the chapter had been murmuring.  Instead, it’s Jesus own disciples, and to make matters worse, it’s many of Jesus’ disciples who … said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Proverbs 9:1-6  +  Ephesians 5:15-20  +  John 6:51-58
August 19, 2012

“‘Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.’”
[John 6:54]

               You likely know that every priest, every year, is required by canon law to make a retreat that’s at least five days long.  Canon law isn’t much more specific than that, so a priest has quite a bit of leeway in deciding where and what type of retreat he goes on.  For example, many priests of our diocese make their annual retreat at the Spiritual Life Center, while others might travel to a monastery or convent in another state.  Some retreats are preached to large groups of priests, while others are private, individually directed retreats.  One priest may go every year to the same place for his retreat, while another may like to go someplace different each year.  The differences among retreats are as many as the differences among priests themselves.
               Often, a priest finds his yearly calendar full, and in the last few months of the year struggles to make his retreat “fit” into his calendar.  This happened to me at the end of 1999.  I’d only been a priest four years, and that summer Bishop Gerber moved me from my first assignment, and sent me overseas to study.  My first semester back in school was very difficult for many reasons, including the fact that most of my lectures were in Italian, and had spoken (instead of written) exams.

Assumption of the BVM

The Solemnity of the Assumption
Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6,10  +  1 Corinthians 15:20-26  +  Luke 1:39-56
August 15, 2012

In Washington, D.C. there are monuments to many of our presidents who served our country at crucial times in its history:  one of the newest honors Franklin Roosevelt, who served our country during the course of a great economic depression and a world war.  Other monuments honor Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
All this, of course, is very natural.  When great and famous people die, they are usually given an elaborate funeral and buried in a great tomb. Often buildings and streets are named after them. Many people hope that their memory will live after them, whether through their personal legacy or through some sort of monument.  Most of us at least hope to live on in the memories, thoughts, and prayers of those who are close to us.
But the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary teaches us about the greatest and deepest hope that is shared by every human being who really looks at the meaning of life and death:  the hope that we will live not just in the memory of others, but that we will live on forever in heaven, worshipping God forever.  The feast of the Assumption is not simply about Mary, but about the human race.
               Whenever you look at human history, you see how often and in how many ways God graced the human race with great gifts of talent and insight.  And yet so often people have taken these gifts and twisted them in order to serve death.  The almost miraculous insights of a genius such as Einstein was used to develop weapons capable of destroying human life on the planet.  Yet this simply reflects one of the most basic facts of human existence:  original sin.  In other words, when humanity is left to its own powers, it constantly gravitates towards DEATH.  This is the story of the human race, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Israelites in the desert, to Christ coming to live among us and being killed for his actions, to our own day.  God created human beings as completely good, but we often take what is good and use it for bad purposes.
               The fact that Mary was taken up – assumed – into heaven at the end of her life was a unique gift given to one person, and yet it has something to teach all of us.  Not superstition, but show us how much God privileged Mary, how much Mary loved her Son, and how much we can love her Son through her example and her prayers for us.
               Our Catholic belief in Mary’s Assumption has been held by Christians since the first century, since the apostles who witnessed for themselves Mary’s being taken up into Heaven.  But why should we continue to believe this today?  What hope IS there in believing that Mary, at the end of her life here on earth, was assumed, soul AND body into Heaven?
               We all believe that when a person dies, if they are a state of perfect grace, their soul goes to Heaven, or in another word, that their soul is “assumed” into Heaven.  We may very well know people in our own families who, we’re sure, had their souls taken by God into Heaven.  This may very well happen with many people.  Well, the only difference between these people and the end of Mary’s life is that BOTH Mary’s soul AND her BODY were assumed into Heaven.
               Why was Mary’s body taken into Heaven along with her soul?  Because Mary is the type of person that all of us were originally supposed to be, but didn’t become because of Original Sin.  If Adam and Even, and all of us in turn, had never sinned, then every one of us would rise body and soul into Heaven at the end of our lives on this earth.  Death as we know it only exists because of human sin.
               Yet Mary was given a special gift by God, since God knew that she would accept His calling to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.  The privilege of Mary’s first moment of existence, the privilege of her Immaculate Conception:  her being conceived by her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin, meant that her whole life was a special grace from God.  It was still filled with struggles and pain, but at the end of her life on this earth, Mary became a sign of hope for us.  Because Mary was never touched by the effects of original sin, she didn’t suffer the corruption of her body.
Mary is the perfect example of what it means to take the gifts given by God and use them completely for good.  Because Mary accepted the great gift of being the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, and because she always stood faithful to Christ, even as he hung on the Cross, she was protected by God from the most powerful effect of original sin:  that body and soul should be separated at the time of death.
So when the end of Mary’s life came, Mary became the sign that shows all of us our own destiny as disciples of Christ.  When we die, our souls and bodies will be separated for quite some time:  until the end of time, in fact.  Nonetheless, if you and I follow Christ even when it means embracing the Cross — if we are always willing to use the gifts God has given us for good and not evil — then when Christ comes a second time (at the end of time), your body and my body will be raised by Christ, and with our Blessed Mother in Heaven we will all thank God for the gift of life.  We shouldn’t forget that we celebrate this in our Creed when we pray, “We believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Mary shows us how to follow her Son to heaven.  Mary is also our hope.  Where Mary has gone, we too hope to follow.  Mary was given great gifts by God, but how can we consider ourselves to be lacking in any graces we need when God the Father gives us a share in his Son’s life through the Eucharist?


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kings 19:4-8  ¾  Ephesians 4:30-5:2  ¾  John 6:41-51
August 12, 2012

“‘…whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’”
[John 6:51]

               The combination of being a fifth-generation Kansan, and having a strong fear of heights, means that I’ve never been fond of mountains.  Driving through the Flint Hills is the closest I ever want to come to mountain-climbing.  Still, at least in theory, I can see the beauty of scaling Pike’s Peak, and enjoying the view from its heights.  This epic sense of perspective is why mountains play such an important role in Scripture’s account of salvation history:  think of Mount Ararat, Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion.  Think in the Gospel of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount, and multiplying the loaves for five thousand on a mountain.
               In their own way, man-made heights are even more impressive.  On a recent drive to Kentucky, three brother priests and I had free time in St. Louis, so one suggestion of course was to visit the Arch.  The Arch is both impressive and beautiful, but I didn’t have any desire to go to its top.  A similar example would be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world:  the great pyramids of Egypt.  I’ve never had the privilege to visit them, but if I did, I’d have to admire the pyramids from the ground.  But that would be my loss, because the great pyramids are unique not only in that they’re a marvel of human ingenuity and beauty, but also in that they afford the person who’s willing to scale them an amazing perspective of God’s wonders in nature, with all of His divine wisdom and beauty.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Exodus 16:2-4,12-15  ¾  Ephesians 4:17,20-24  ¾  John 6:24-35
August 5, 2012

“‘I am the Bread of Life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’”
[John 6:35]

               In the Church’s ancient tradition of Lectio Divina—the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture—the first step is simply to choose a passage or verse of Scripture.  You might choose, for example, a phrase from today’s Gospel, such as:  “‘I am the Bread of Life.’”  The next step is to listen to the Word of God speaking through the passage you’ve chosen.  This can only be done well when you remember that the Word of God is not a thing, but a Person:  the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  This person speaks to you individually through Scripture, when you listen in your soul.  It doesn’t matter that the words of Scripture were written thousands of years ago.  Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God can speak to you personally through those written words about whatever struggles, hopes and challenges you are facing (perhaps even if you’re unaware of them).
               The next step of Lectio Divina is to understand the Word of God.  Whereas the prior step of listening tends more to engage your heart, this step of understanding tends more to engage your mind.  There are several ways this occurs, but most of them have to do with context.  Most people misunderstand the Word of God because they’re not reflecting on the chosen Scripture passage in its fullest context.  To use a metaphor, understanding a Scripture passage means not to isolate the passage, but rather to allow it to strike a chord within the breadth and width and depth of the Word of God.  Consider just one context.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)